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After a decisive loss against nationally-ranked North Central, the University wrestling team came back with a strong 3–1 finish at the Knox Duals in Galesburg, Illinois on Saturday to improve their overall duals record to 4–7. With three victories of 15 points or more over Wisconsin-Platteville, Hannibal-LaGrange, and host Knox (40–7), the team looks to be turning the season around at just the right time. The only loss came against Central by a score of 22–15.
“We knew we could beat all the teams we faced. It was just a matter of showing up and putting together the right matchups,” fourth-year Ryan Hatten said. “We have guys going up to higher weight classes to help the team out, so I think we did very well given the circumstances. After our showing Tuesday, it was good for our morale to do well.”
One of those who switched weight classes was fourth-year Matt Hart, who moved to the 141 division. “3–1 overall was a really good performance, especially in our first dual,” he said. “We wanted to start putting on better dual performances. North Central we only won one match, and same with Elmhurst. With [the UAA Championship] right around the corner, we wanted to start getting our best lineups together and start feeding off of each other’s matchups to get some momentum.”
Four Chicago wrestlers went undefeated that day, including Hart and Hatten at 4–0, and second-year Jim Layton and first-year Ryan Hoyt at 3–0. Yet even with outstanding individual performances, the team still needed to have a sense of unity to compete well.
“We saw a lot of guys who stepped up for the team,” head coach Leo Kocher said. “A couple of the meets, Platteville and Central, were particularly challenging in close matches. On a wrestling team, even though it’s an individual sport, you have to feel like you have to want to do it not just for yourself, but for your team. They’re all sweating and bleeding right along with each other. I thought we would be a little more competitive from here on out, and yesterday upheld that viewpoint.”
Saturday’s success was opportune, as the team needs a strong ending to the regular season to get ready for the UAA Championship on February 5 against Case Western and New York University.
“For the coach and our season, we see the UAAs as what we’re trying to peak at, because that’s what we have a lot of pride in for the university,” third-year Stephen Sunderman said. “We’ve taken our lumps, and our duals record shows that. We really turned the corner this weekend. We can build off that and finish strong when we move to the conference tournament.”
Chicago’s bright prospects at the UAA Championship are in part due to their preparation.
“At the beginning of the season, we played a lot of highly-rated teams. We’ve taken our punches, but our big goal this year is hanging together,” Sunderman added. “We just have to keep improving so when we get to the end with the UAAs, we can show up and win another conference title.”
“We’re on an excellent path for the UAA Championship. This team has people in the right weight classes. We have competitive people in all the classes,” Kocher said. “The dual meets that matter more than anything are the dual meets against Case Western and NYU. We’re on a good path to be competitive there.”
“There were a lot of technical things we have been working on in practice that have been making a difference,” Hart concluded. “If we keep improving, it’s hard to believe that we couldn’t win UAA. We just have to continue to improve each week, and find the little things that will make a difference in close matches.”
This weekly improvement will be tested tonight in a dual meet at Wheaton at 7 p.m.