March 4, 2013

Season ends with promise, but no Nationals

The nation’s most difficult regional qualifier closed the door on the Maroons’ NCAA hopes on Saturday, as Chicago finished its season with an 11th-place performance at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Second-year Adam Wyeth had the Maroons’ standout performance with a fourth-place finish at 133 pounds. Behind him, fourth-year Joeie Ruettiger and second-year Mario Palmisano lived up to their seeds with fifth- and sixth-place performances, respectively, at 149 pounds and 197 pounds. The top three finishers in each of the 10 weight classes qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

“For the team as a whole, it’s never fun to go to a tournament like this and not qualify anyone for Nationals,” Wyeth said, “but most of us that wrestled are young and can take it as a learning experience for next season.”

The odds are strongly against Chicago seeing another deck as stacked as Saturday’s. Twenty-seven nationally ranked wrestlers competed at the Midwest Regional, with seven of them missing out on qualifying. Second-year Joe Ellis and fourth-year Jim Layton each shared brackets with four wrestlers in the national top-10s at 141 pounds and 157 pounds, respectively.

The teams that placed first through fifth were each ranked in the top 12 in February’s coaches’ poll, with fourth-ranked UW–Whitewater (121 points) beating out second-ranked Elmhurst (108 points) behind four first-place finishes.

Wyeth came in unseeded, spotting injured second-year Willie Long. After losing his first match to Elmhurst’s Dalton Bullard, a reigning All-American and the eventual second-place finisher, Wyeth won a 4–1 decision over the sixth seed and a 13–9 decision over the fifth seed before losing to UW–Whitewater’s Grant Sutter, another All-American.

“I came into the tournament after a pretty rough season without a lot of concrete successes, but knew that I had been improving throughout the year and was close to taking my wrestling to the next level as long as I stayed confident,” Wyeth said. “My successes were a result of mentally preparing myself to wrestle hard for all seven minutes while letting my technical instincts take over.”

In his last college tournament, Ruettiger finished with a 3–2 record. He lost his opening match to the eventual champion before bouncing back with a first-period pin and an 8–4 decision. Second-seeded Jake Strausbaugh from Wabash sent Ruettiger into the fifth-place match, which was won via forfeit.

In a weight class that featured three nationally ranked wrestlers, Palmisano faced six matches and came away with a 3–3 mark to finish sixth, earning his three victories by decision (9–3, 9–5, 7–5). The second-year gave the eventual champion his closest contest of the day, eventually losing a 14–12 decision.

“I think for the most part, the team brought their A-game,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “We played the hand we were dealt. All of the returners and coaches are determined to close what is not that big of a gap between us and the best of Division III next season.”