CHICAGO – With the 2019-20 competitive season ready to begin, the University of Chicago wrestling team will field a roster packed to the brim with a decorated senior class and a bevy of underclassmen who have already made their mark on the regional and national landscape.
After graduating six members of last year's team, the Maroons have 29 wrestlers on the squad – eight seniors, nine juniors, six sophomores and six first-years.
"Kyle Peisker and 2017 All-American Steve Bonsall lead a group of seniors that also include UAA Champions Grant Morrison, Kahlan Lee-Lermer and Nick Carola – these guys know how to compete," said Head Coach Leo Kocher. "If they stay healthy, Chicago will be tough this year."
This accomplished senior class features multi-year starters who have come through in big moments time and again. Peisker clinched All-American status in 2019 by claiming fifth place in the 184-pound bracket at the NCAA Division III Championships. He also led the team in victories with a 36-7 overall record. Bonsall, a previous 2017 All-American at 157 pounds, posted a 21-5 record last year. Lee-Lermer went 23-10 at 165 pounds. Carola rejoined the lineup late in the season to post pivotal wins for the Maroons at 197 pounds, while 2017 UAA Rookie of the Year Morrison looks to contribute as well at 149 pounds.
Peisker and sophomore Ben Sarasin provided the biggest highlights with their All-American campaigns back in March 2019. The duo became the 26th and 27th All-Americans in UChicago wrestling history. Sarasin placed seventh at 174 pounds at NCAAs and finished the season with a 32-8 record. Both wrestlers competed much of the year in the same 174-pound weight class, which created a conundrum for Kocher and his coaching staff. Schools are only allowed one entry per weight class at the NCAA national tournament.
"Toward the end of the season, we thought Kyle could wrestle the guys at the next weight class up at 184 pounds and still be an All-American, and leave the 174 weight class open for Ben," Kocher said. "It was a bit of a risk, but it ended as we hoped with both of them medaling at the NCAAs. Ben has grown some since last season and will be wrestling at 184 this year; Kyle will return to wrestle his natural weight class at 174. Typically, returning wrestling All-Americans are looking for the opponents who stand between them and a NCAA Championship. It would not surprise me if Kyle and Ben were looking for the top of the podium.
"Ben was highly touted wrestler in high school – he placed in national tournaments and was consistently ranked in the top dozen nationally in his weight class among high school seniors," he continued. "Ben's success as a first-year was in large part due to his sheer talent. Although Kyle Peisker was an excellent wrestler in high school, he did not have those national accolades. The fact is Kyle took a pretty big leap in his first two years as a Maroon."
Now in his 41st year at UChicago, Kocher coached the 2018-19 squad to its second-straight University Athletic Association (UAA) team championship and its 17th in program history. The Maroons defended their crown with dominating wins over New York University (36-3) and Case Western Reserve University (34-6). Seven Maroons were named All-UAA, including returners Bonsall, Lee-Lermer, Sarasin, Peisker and Carola.
Sarasin then became the team's first regional champion since 2015, leading UChicago to a fifth-place showing at the Upper Midwest Regional Championships. Six returning Maroons were named All-Region performers – Sarasin (174), Peisker (184), Bonsall (157), Cole Riemer (149), Lee-Lermer (165) and Chaise Hauck (141).
Riemer provided wins for the lineup throughout his debut season, going 18-6 at 149 pounds. Fellow sophomore Maguire Pecci went 17-6 at the same weight. Junior Will Britain tallied a 19-7 record at 165 pounds throughout 2018-19.
With so much returning talent in the fold, Kocher wants every individual in the wrestling room to step up to the challenge. "Our wrestlers have developed a strong team culture," he said. "The leadership will be provided by each and every wrestler who embraces the standards set by this team."
Last year's rookie class made a big impact on the lineup, and Kocher expects his newest incoming athletes to be able to push the veterans and make their contributions in dual meet and tournament settings.
"We have some talented freshmen again this year – the coaching staff is looking forward to their adjustment to collegiate wrestling and making their mark," Kocher said. "They will be seeing lots of action. We think they will rise to the occasion, which is what we need from them."