February 20, 2009

Carlson among favorites to earn nationals bid at Great Lakes Regional

Wrestling has already won the 2009 UAA Championships, the pinnacle of team achievement for Chicago. Now, with the squad headed to the Great Lakes Regional this weekend, it’s every Maroon for himself.The regional, which will be held Saturday at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, WI, provide an opportunity for the wrestlers to compete against some of the country’s best. All participants are guaranteed some excellent practice, but for a select few, the deal is even sweeter: The top finishers will earn a trip to the D-III Championships, to be held in Cedar City, IA, in two weeks.“[The Great Lakes Regional] is about individuals trying to perform at a level and place as high as they can, and maybe even grab a berth at the D-III national tournament in a few weeks,” head coach Leo Kocher said.After sending Phil Kruzel (A.B. ’07) to nationals in 2007, the Maroons were shut out of the big dance last year, but Chicago may well be back in 2009. Third-year Troy Carlson, who is ranked fourth nationally at 174 pounds, will be one of the top seeds in his bracket, and will have no shortage of motivation after missing out on NCAAs last year.At the 2008 regionals, Carlson was seeded fourth in the 165-pound bracket, his weight class last season. In the quarterfinals, Carlson pinned Saint John’s University’s Matt Schrupp, who went on to finish third in the bracket. But after dispatching his early opponents with relative ease, Carlson’s shoulder was separated in a match against Maranatha’s Ben Hoover, who went on to win the division. The injury knocked Carlson out of the competition.“Clearly, he would have been a contender to wrestle back and get a national berth,” Kocher said. “So he caught a tough break last year.”Carlson’s seeding this year won’t be known for sure until tonight, when the coaches of the teams competing at regionals meet and hammer out the brackets. But in the most recent national rankings, Carlson is ranked higher than any other 174-pounder that will be at the meet, so he is likely to be among the highest seeds. The next-highest ranked wrestler who will be in attendance, Zach Molitor of Augsburg, is eighth nationally.Although a higher seed can smooth a wrestler’s path through the earlier rounds, it is hardly a guarantee of success at regionals or a spot at nationals. To make it past this weekend, Carlson and the other Maroons will have to finish first or second in their respective brackets, or pick up a wild card. There are 10 weight divisions with two automatic bids each, and six wild card qualifiers will be picked from among those 10 divisions, for a total of 26 NCAA bids up for grabs this weekend.That’s more bids than were available last year, which is recognition of the strength of Great Lakes region. Of the national qualifiers from the Great Lakes in 2008, 15 went on to be All-Americans, and so the total number of bids allotted to the region was increased.That so many All-Americans came out of the region is hardly surprising. Five of the teams competing—Augsburg, Concordia-Moorhead, Elmhurst, North Central, and Saint John’s—are ranked in the top 20 nationally. Augsburg is ranked first in the nation, and the Auggies have a wrestler ranked in the top 10 nationally in eight of out of the 10 weight divisions.Though the meet emphasizes individual competition, team scores are tallied, and Chicago finished seventh out of the 15 squads that competed last year. But there was a sizable gap between the Maroons and the sixth place finisher, Lakeland College—Chicago had 47.5 points all told, while the Muskies had 82.5. Such a large gap is indicative of the strength of the teams at the top of the regional and the quality of the competition that stands between the Maroons and nationals.“It’s going to be a very, very competitive, tough meet,” Kocher said.