St. Louis is known as the gateway to the West. Today, as the Red begins its three-day quest for glory in the NCAA championships, the city could become the gateway to history.
The Red is poised to rewrite the Cornell record books and challenge its best all-time finsih of seventh in 1958 with nine wrestlers competing in the tournament, the most in school history. Five of the Red’s representatives are seeded in the top 10 and four in the top eight. The Red has the potential for four All-Americans, an honor determined by finishing in the top eight of a respective weight class. This would be a first for Cornell.
“We have five guys seeded — that’s a long way form when these guys were recruited,” said head coach Rob Koll. “When [senior co-captain Travis] Lee, [junior Dustin] Manotti, [senior Joe] Mazzurco, [senior co-captain Tyler] Baier, and [sophomore Jerry] Rinaldi were recruited to Cornell the idea that we could have five guys ranked in the top ten — four in the top eight — was unheard of. We told them we could be a top five team. It’s come to fruition because of their efforts.”
Leading the way for the Red will be Lee, who Lee secured a No. 1 seed in the 133-pound weight class thanks to a dominating performance at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships, where he won his fourth title. Lee is 13-4 all-time in the NCAA tournament and will be facing a familiar face, Derek Moore of UC Davis, in the first round. Lee pinned Moore in the first round of last year’s tournament.
Manotti was awarded a No. 3 seed in the 149-pound weight class. He is 36-2 this season and nearly won an EIWA title but lost in the final seconds of the title bout to Army’s Phillip Simpson. The loss has given Manotti tremendous motivation.
“I have never been so angry after losing a match in my life,” Manotti said. “I’ve lost matches before but not in that context. It’s always good to have these losses happen before nationals. If I was going to lose it was great that I lost then. I know what I have to do now and there are no excuses.”
Mazzurco cruised to an EIWA title in the 174-pound weight class and was given a No. 5 seed for his efforts. This season, Mazzurco is 37-2 and will take on the winner of a pigtail match in the first round.
“You’ve got to wrestle every match as hard as possible and keep your focus,” Mazzurco said. “Its nice to be a fifth seed — it might make my road a little bit easier. I have to take every match as it comes and wrestle those seven minutes hard.”
Baier is seeded seventh in the 184-pound weight class and he is determined to finish his career on a high note. Baier has competed in two NCAA tournaments in his career but hopes the third time might be the charm.
“I feel like I’m peaking right now,” Baier said. “I feel healthy. I know a lot of guys are going to have bumps and bruises. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to go out there this healthy and confidant.”
Baier’s first task will be to win a pigtail match against Millersville’s Mark Knock to advance to the first round of the tournament. Michigan’s Joshua Weitzel would be his foe in the first round, an opponent Baier is confident he can beat. Minnesota’s Roger Kish lies in wait as one of the top seed in Baier’s weight class. Kish beat Baier 7-4 earlier this season and Baier is looking forwrad to a chance to exact revenge.
“I’ve been watching tape of him,” Baier said. “I’m confident with the way he wrestles and the way I wrestle that I can win that match. I’ve matured over the season. Also, he had an injury and was out for about a month.”
The final Red grappler to secure a seed is Rinaldi, No. 10 at 197 pounds. Rinaldi is making his second appearance in the tournament. Last year, he competed at the 184-pound weight class going 1-2 in his tournament debut. His first round opponent will be Penn State’s Phillip Davis. Davis beat Rinaldi at the National Duels earlier this season.
Four Red wrestlers will compete in the tournament with unseeded bids. Senior Mike Mormile will take on Central Michigan’s Luke Smith in the first round at the 125-pound weight class in his second NCAA tournament appearance. Senior Tyler Shovlin will represent the Red at heavyweight. Shovlin earned his trip to St. Louis thanks to fourth-place finish at the EIWA championships.
Rounding out the Red contingent are freshman Jordan Leen and sophomore Joey Hooker, both of whom will be making their debuts in the NCAA tournament. Leen, the Ivy League rookie of the year, will tangle with top-seeded Nate Gallick of Iowa State in the 141-pound weight class. Hooker will battle Wisconsin’s Jake Donar.
“Leen and Hooker, hopefully, have several more national tournaments,” Koll said. “You focus on letting them know there are no guarantees that there will be a next national tournament. They could go out and break a leg and this could be their only opportunity. So they can’t be content on just being there.”
All together the Red are nine strong and ready to make their own destiny.
“I’m very confident,” Mazzurco said. “We have nine guys going. If we have four or five placers and a few other guys win a match or two — we should definitely be in the top five.”
Archived article by James Rich
Sun Staff Writer