Wrestling did not disappoint in its first major tournament of the fresh 2008 season.
In Saturday’s Concordia Open, individuals competed in one of 10 double-elimination brackets. Third-year Troy Carlson starred for Chicago, winning the 174-pound bracket, while fourth-year Tom Nero, second-year Matt Hart, and first-years Jimmy Schoettle and Stephen Hanzlik turned in impressive performances before being eliminated.
The tournament played host to some of the toughest competition in the Division III, with six nationally ranked teams: Wartburg is the nation’s top-ranked team, North Central and UW–Whitewater are both top 10, and UW–Steven Point, Dubuque, and Loras College all rank in the top 20.
With such a heavy concentration of quality teams competing in the Open, Chicago was able to gauge its prospects for the 2008 wrestling campaign.
The positive results began with Nero setting the tone in the 285-pound weight class, earning a 5–2 record on the day. Hart, Schoettle, and Hanzlik followed suit with 4–2 showings of their own at 141, 125, and 184 pounds, respectively.
Also delivering solid performances were fourth-year Justin Lucas in the 197-pound division and first-year Christopher Canty in the 157-pound division, with each posting a 3–2 record.
Yet the tournament’s most impressive performance came from Carlson, who was named the Open’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. En route to capturing the crown in his 174-pound weight class, Carlson swept all five of his opponents to boast an unblemished 5–0 record.
Adding to his achievement was the fact that he did it against some of the nation’s loftiest opponents: In one of the early rounds, Carlson beat ninth-ranked fourth-year Carsten Carlsen from UW–Platteville, and later he pinned seventh-ranked third-year Grant Jenkins out of Wartburg.
Carlson’s domination at the Concordia Open not only validates the promise he has shown thus far in the 2008 season but also marks his resurgence after injuries hampered him during the 2007 season.
“There was no question that Troy should have gone to nationals last year,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “This year, by season’s end, he should be nationally ranked.”
In Saturday’s tournament, six Chicago wrestlers were in the top eight of their weight class, with nearly 400 competitors participating. To put the team’s success in perspective, it is important to note that Kocher pulled out several wrestlers in the middle of the tournament because further competition threatened to worsen their already existing injuries.
“We took out a lot of people who were banged up,” Kocher said. “We just didn’t want to risk anything this early in the season.”
Kocher, however, was quick to add that his team learned a great deal from their tournament experience.
“I was pleased with the effort, but I think the tournament taught us that we still need to work on a lot of things,” said Kocher.
The squad initially opened the season with a pair of lopsided splits in Whitewater, WI. In a 30–6 November 3 blowout, 10th-ranked UW–Whitewater dominated the team. However, they rebounded with a comfortable 36–12 win over Wheaton. Nearly two weeks later, with eighth-ranked North Central coming into town, the Maroons fell 26–15.
The team’s unrelenting schedule has them matching up against ranked opponents for most of the season, with the Maroons hosting 25th-ranked Elmhurst Tuesday, December 2.
“I don’t really mind the difficult schedule,” said Kocher. “This is where we want to be.”