January 27, 2012

Wheaton boasts elite competition

This Friday, the wrestling team will travel to nearby Wheaton, Illinois to participate in the Pete Willson–Wheaton Invitational, the Maroons’ last tournament-style meet before the UAA Championships in two weeks.

“The Wheaton is the strongest small college tournament in the country,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “I’ve told our guys that if they place in the top eight in their weight class, they are, by definition, nationally competitive.”

The field of 32 colleges features a handful of nationally-ranked opponents, including third-ranked UW–La Crosse, seventh-ranked Olivet College, and ninth-ranked UW–Whitewater. It will also be host to several schools the Maroons have faced before this year, such as Elmhurst, ranked at 14, Wabash, at 26, and Augustana.

Third-year James Layton, who earned a national Honorable Mention for his strong season at 157 pounds, will lead Kocher’s young team, as he has done all year. Behind him is an improving squad that includes first-year Mario Palmisano, who was on this week’s UAA Honor Roll, at 197 pounds.

Kocher expects his squad to “be determined to wrestle better” this week than they did last week. “You don’t want to slide backwards,” he said.

The Maroons finished 25th out of 32 teams at last year’s invitational, and are returning all but three of the wrestlers that competed then. One of those three wrestlers, though, was sixth-seeded Ryan Hatten at 285 pounds.

The Maroons will try to succeed in spite of a recent spate of illness and injuries.

“I suspect it will not be our strongest lineup of the year,” Kocher said. “We just want to finish the season strong.”