January 17, 2006

Veteran wrestlers turn corner, dominate tough meet

Before his season-ending injury two weeks ago, third-year Ben Barnes had established himself as the star of the wrestling team. This weekend two of his classmates shined brightly and led their team to new frontiers.

On the backs of third-years Andrew Bribriesco and Phil Kruzel, the Maroons scored 76 points to finish fifth overall at the North Central College Invite Friday and Saturday. Fourth-seeded Bribriesco won all four of his contests in Naperville, including a 15–14 victory over top-seeded UW–Platteville third-year Zach Chambers to earn a first-place finish in the 141-pound weight class. Just as noteworthy was Kruzel’s performance, which culminated in a second-place finish for the 174-pounder. Kruzel entered the tourney seeded sixth in his class and cruised through the two-day invite, losing only in the finals to top-seeded Elmhurst fourth-year Josh Rupprecht. The 5–2 decision was one of the closest matches the seventh-ranked Rupprecht has faced this season. Kruzel will get a second chance today when the Maroons travel to Elmhurst.

Three other Chicago wrestlers scored fifth-place finishes. Third-year fifth-seed Mike Bishof, competing at 165 pounds, defeated Lawrence third-year Joe Austin 12–2 in his final bout. Classmate Drew Marriott, seeded sixth at 197 pounds, accepted a forfeit from Olivet second-year Aaron Stewart in the fifth-place match, while first-year 125-pounder Ben Hart notched a 9–2 decision over Rose-Hulman first-year Jacob Wise.

While the Maroons finished one place lower than at last year’s North Central tourney, they seemed to have a better meet overall.

“It was a stronger field than last year,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “I think it is safe to say our returning wrestlers performed better this year.”

Several younger Maroons also placed at the tournament. Second-year Cameron Soran (184 pounds) continued his impressive run as Barnes’s substitute with a seventh-place finish, accepting a forfeit from Millikin second-year Barry Brown. Classmate Brandon Tillman, seeded seventh, placed eighth in the 133-pound class after falling to Olivet fourth-year Kefentse Mandisa 4–3. First-year 165-pounder Lance Contento ended the weekend in seventh place after a 5–3 decision over Elmhurst first-year Tony Doan.

This winning spirit was symbolized by the way in which Bribriesco and Kruzel easily picked up where the injured Barnes left off. Both wrestlers have had a particularly strong season so far, compiling winning records and top-notch tourney finishes.

Bribriesco, 4–2 in dual-meet matches this season, has wrestled increasingly well since returning from a concussion that halted his conditioning and kept him out of action for the first two meets of the season. He has made great runs at two of the three tourneys he has participated in this season, including a sixth-place finish at the Cornell Invite earlier this month. Bribriesco’s performance this weekend is easily the highlight of his season so far. He holds a 10–5 overall record.

“I went into the tournament knowing that seeding isn’t everything and that you have to perform when it counts,” Bribriesco said. “After this past weekend, I know I can compete with some of the top wrestlers at my weight.”

“Andrew has always been one of our best,” Kocher said.

Kruzel enjoyed similar success this weekend and throughout this year. Like Bribriesco, he holds a 4–2 dual meet record, including a difficult win against Division I Northwestern last month in which he defeated Wildcats first-year Mark Graves. Kruzel has an 11–8 record overall, with no tourney performance more impressive than that of the North Central Invite.

“At North Central, I feel I finally wrestled up to my potential,” Kruzel said. “Early in the year, I was losing the close matches, but over the weekend I was able to turn the corner as I forced my opponents to wrestle my style of match.”

Kruzel also cited improvements in his conditioning and style in the ring as reasons for his sharp showings.

The Maroons continue down their season-long rough road today as they head into dual meet action against seventh-ranked Elmhurst. The Bluejays have three of their wrestlers ranked in the top eight of their weight classes, including Rupprecht and fourth-year Tyler Ludwig stands at third in the 157-pound class. First-year 125-pounder Tom Gagnon, currently ranked seventh, did not participate at North Central and may be injured.

Chicago wrestlers have even more daunting tasks ahead of them after this week, as the UAA Championship, Great Lakes Regional meet, and the NCAA Championship are on the horizon.

“Some one always has to step up for the team. All of our third-years in the line-up have done so at one point in the season and we must continue to wrestle well and lead our young squad into our upcoming contests,” Kruzel said.