It’s all starts this morning at the NCAA Division I wrestling nationals, where over 300 wrestlers will take to eight mats and compete for 10 individual titles and 80 All-America honors. After months of anticipation, the clock inside the Friedman Wrestling Center will tick down to zero and signal the start of collegiate wrestling’s most prestigious tournament, held this year at the Palace at Auburn Hills, Mich. With six of eight Cornell wrestlers earning seeds at this year’s nationals, the Red will compete for the team’s third consecutive top-5 finish on wrestling’s biggest stage.
“We’ve talked about the clock everyday,” said head coach Rob Koll. “You want those practices to be perfect leading up to nationals. We’ve limited them to a little under an hour to give them their best chance to succeed. They’re excited and they’ve spent this last week suring up little details.”
As to whether or not the team is ready, preparation has been gearing up since 364 days ago. While most of the wrestlers have been unable to sleep because of the high anticipation of this year’s tournament, them being ready is an understatement.
“This preparation didn’t start over night,” said assistant coach Damion Hahn. “It’s been going on for the last year. Nothing else has been on the minds of our guys this week besides being ready to go for the big show. As a coaching staff we feel confident in our guys and we feel that they’re ready.”
After the brackets were released Monday night, Cornell was met with some interesting draws and some not-so-lucky ones as well. Despite the draws and seeds handed out by the NCAA, little worry is spent on how the match ups play out.
“To become an All-American and a national champion you have to wrestle through everybody in your weight class,” Hahn said. “Sure, everyone pays attention to draws. However, it’s the guys who go out and want it the most that perform the best at nationals. It doesn’t matter if you face someone in the first round or the finals, you still have to beat them if you want to finish first.”
Sophomore Troy Nickerson received the highest seed of any Red wrestler, wrestling as the two seed in the bracket’s bottom half. After finishing last season as the runner-up at 125 pounds, the first-ever five-time New York stage high school champion will be in search of his first-ever national championship. The highest seeded wrestler in Nickerson’s half of the bracket is Stanford’s Tanner Gardner, who Nickerson beat earlier in the season at the Southern Scuffle by a score of 3-0. If all goes according to plan, look for Nickerson to be wrestling on national television in the 125-pound final against top-seeded Sam Hazewinkel from Oklahoma University.
At 133 pounds, sophomore Adam Frey makes his first-ever appearance at nationals as the No. 3 seed. After finishing the season with a record of 15-2, Frey was placed opposite of his arch nemesis Matt Valenti of Penn — the only wrestler to defeat Frey all season. Look for Frey and Valenti to meet again in the semifinals.
Sophomore Jordan Leen earned the No. 4 seed at 149 pounds and is slated to wrestle in the same bracket at Minnesota’s undefeated and top-seeded Dustin Schlatter. Leen has lost to Schlatter twice this season by scores of 7-1 and 3-0, respectively.
Wrestling in his second nationals, sophomore Steve Anceravage has an uphill battle climb at 165 pounds after being seeded No. 8. If he can get past Minnesota’s Tyler Safratowich in the first round, he’ll then most likely face No. 9 Matt Pell and No. 1 Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State if he wants to make it to the semifinals. Known as a better wrestler later in the day, Anceravage will hope this rings true today.
Senior Joey Hooker, unseeded at 174 pounds, is slated to wrestle the winner of a match between UNC Greensboro’s Joseph Lowe and Edinboro’s Phillip Moricone. If Hooker makes it past his first opponent, he’ll then most likely face the No. 3 seed, Michigan’s Steve Luke. Luke took first place at this season’s Body Bar Invitational inside Newman Arena.
At 184 pounds, the widely unknown Josh Arnone will receive the winner of a first round match between Stanford’s Zach Giesen and Ohio State’s No. 3 seeded Mike Pucillo. Pucillo and Arnone haven’t met this season due to Arnone being out of action due to mononucleosis in the teams’ dual meet earlier in the season. The unseeded Arnone might have received the best draw of any wrestler unexpected to challenge for All-America honors. Although he’ll lose a match because of a rare first round bye, don’t expect a let down from the Pennsylvania native.
“I do like being that little fish in a big pond,” Arnone said. “All I have to do is go out and wrestle. I really have nothing to lose.”
Competing in his last NCAA tournament, No. 5 ranked Jerry Rinaldi was hit hard by the seeding committee after being placed in the same quarterfinal bracket as No. 4 seeded Phil Davis of Penn State — the same wrestler who ousted Rinaldi at last year’s nationals in the semifinals and has yet to lose to Rinaldi in his collegiate career. The road to wrestling Davis again has a silver lining though, as Rinaldi will wrestle Rider’s Timothy Morrison in the first round and then most likely face Wisconsin’s Dallas Herbst in the second round. Rinaldi defeated both wrestlers at this year’s Las Vegas Invitational by scores of 2-1 and 2-0, respectively.
At heavyweight, unseeded junior Zach Hammond will make his first appearance at nationals despite suffering a torn MCL and will wrestle against Cleveland State’s Rashard Goff in the first round. If he can slip by Goff, he’ll then wrestle against undefeated, top-seeded and highly favored returning national champion Cole Konrad of Minnesota.
“Zach’s figured out how to win this season,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier ’05. “He took his lumps early, but he’s really turned that into a positive.”
With everything starting this morning, all hype and anxiety will be channeled and played out in results. There will be winners and there will be losers. The only thing each wrestler can do is make sure they give it their all. Although not everyone has seen the Red in person, they’ll get their first glimpse today inside the Palace at Auburn Hills.
“I’ve talked these guys up for the last year because I see them everyday in practice,” Koll said. “You have to realize though, I sound like a genius because these guys make me look good. The only thing I’ve ever had to worry about is whether all of them were going to be healthy. At this point, there are no injuries anymore and we’re all together. Who knows what will play out.”