AUBURN HILLS, Mich — Four Cornell wrestlers were honored on collegiate wrestling’s biggest stage yesterday. Taking part in the night session’s parade of All-Americans, senior Jerry Rinaldi, sophomore Troy Nickerson, sophomore Jordan Leen and sophomore Josh Arnone all were recognized for their accomplishments at this season’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships held inside the Palace of Auburn Hills just outside Detroit. After three days of non-stop wrestling, Nickerson finished third in the country at 125 pounds, Rinaldi finished sixth at 197, while Leen and Arnone finished eighth at 149 and 184 pounds, respectively. Although the team finished in a disappointing 12th place overall, there were still positives to take away from this year’s event.
“We had four All-Americans and we’re really proud of that,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We just didn’t score the points, didn’t make the pins and had too many should have and would haves in the tournament. We had some kids that probably should have been in the placing rounds and it just didn’t happen this year. The good news is that we have two returning sophomore All-Americans and a returning freshman one as well. We’ve never had three returning All-Americans in the history of the program so the future is bright. I’m not going to get too discouraged about our showing.”
Nickerson wrestled like a man who didn’t belong in the day’s consolation match championships, winning two matches without surrendering a point to give Cornell its highest placer of the tournament. In Nickerson’s later match of the morning against Indiana freshman Angel Escobedo for the second time in as many days, the five-time New York state high school champion left no stone unturned in finishing this year’s tournament in third place. After being denied of wrestling in yesterday’s finals because of a referee awarded stalling point in a second tie-breaker against finalist Paul Donahoe of Iowa State in the semifinals, last year’s runner up took the high road despite wrestling in his first wrestle back action in either high school or college.
“I think the last time I had a wrestle back match was in peewees,” Nickerson said. “[The semifinals] were definitely disappointing. I probably should have got a bigger lead in regulation instead of letting the refs decide it. Still, third place at the national tournament is a nice accomplishment. It wasn’t my goal, but it gives me something to work towards in the next two years.”
After wrestling to a scoreless first period, Escobedo chose to wrestle from the neutral position in the second and let Nickerson get high on a single leg takedown, putting the two-time All-American Nickerson out in front 2-0. After riding out Escobedo for the rest of the period, Nickerson escaped after starting down in the third and held a visibly tired Escobedo at bay for the remainder of the match.
“He’s a tough kid,” Nickerson said. “He’s big, long and lanky. I wrestled him this summer at 132 pounds and I knew I had to wrestle solid if I was going to win. I thought I wrestled well and was happy to end it 3-0.”
To get to the third-place match, Nickerson defeated Lock Haven’s Obe Blanc by major decision, 13-0. Given Friday night’s unfortunate result against Donahue, Nickerson took all his frustration out on the overmatched Blanc, using a second period takedown and three near fall points to take an early command of the match. After Blanc decided to start neutral in the third period, Nickerson scored another takedown and tacked on another three near fall points despite wrestling on the edge of the mat to run the score to 10-0 with just under a minute remaining. As the clock wound down to zero, Nickerson turned Blanc once again for two near fall points and was awarded a point for riding time advantage in blanking the No. 9 seed Blanc for bonus points.
Although he lost twice on the day, Rinaldi finished sixth for Cornell in the 197-pound bracket. Wrestling for a berth into the third-place match, Rinaldi lost a close 4-3 decision to Hofstra’s Chris Weidman due to a scramble and escape with one second left on the clock. In a match up between two-time All-Americans, Rinaldi battled despite having his right leg heavily wrapped in tape. After a second period in which Rinaldi scored and escape and Weidman landed a late takedown, the two wrestlers then traded scoring in the third before the match’s late deciding flurry.
As if his last NCAA tournament was scripted, Rinaldi’s collegiate career was ended after a hard fought and closely contested chess match against arch-nemesis Phil Davis from Penn State. After Davis knocked Rinaldi out of the championship bracket early on in Friday’s session III, the two familiar rivals met again for a shot at fifth place in yesterday’s morning session. Despite giving up a late first period takedown, Rinaldi took the upper hand early in the second after an escape and a subsequent takedown to take the lead 3-2 with 14 seconds left in the middle period. As if it were too good to be true, Davis shook himself from Rinaldi’s grip and scored a reversal with four seconds remaining. Despite a surging effort by Rinaldi late in the third period, Davis took control of the match and racked up a point for riding time in the 8-4 win.
[img_assist|nid=22216|title=Leaving his mark|desc=Senior Jerry Rinaldi, pictured, ended his final season in a Red singlet by finishing in sixth place at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Nationals.|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=69]
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Rinaldi said of finishing in sixth place. “Personally I wanted to finish a little higher, but in hindsight I’m happy I finished as a two-time All-American. I’ll be able to look back and say I’ve had a pretty good career one day. I can’t say enough about this program and about these guys. It’s going to be hard [to leave], but you can’t be sad about it. I’ve just been thankful to be here, given all the amazing people I’ve met. Being a Cornell wrestler has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”
Pitted against unseeded Indiana freshman Matt Coughlin in a battle for seventh place at 149 pounds, sophomore Jordan Leen was unable to muster any kind of momentum in losing an exciting and offensive 11-6 contest. After trailing 4-1 in the first period, Leen wrestled Coughlin even before surrendering two takedowns late in the second. After letting Coughlin up to start the third, Leen tried to score late takedowns but was denied by the Hoosier wrestler at all costs. Leen’s eighth place finish earned him his first All-America honor. Leen was entered as the tournament’s No. 4 seed.
Arnone, Cornell’s last All-American competing in the morning session, wrestled valiantly despite fighting off neck problems against Harvard’s Louis Caputo in an All-Ivy battle for seventh place. After wrestling to a scoreless first period, Arnone was thrown on his previously separated shoulder from earlier in the season and took a minute injury timeout. Although Arnone was able to continue the match, Caputo started the third period from the down position and quickly escaped only to wrestle the remainder of the match from the neutral position. With a point for riding time, the match ended 2-0 in the favor of the Crimson wrestler. Arnone became Cornell’s second freshman eligible All-American to stand on the podium in as many years.
“It felt amazing to be up there,” Arnone said after being awarded for his efforts. “To wrestle your first nationals and come away with a plaque, it’s just a great feeling. I didn’t expect it, but I surely didn’t count it out. I just tried to stay positive and stick to my coaches’ game plan. I got a good draw and things worked out for me. I’ll take the next two weeks off and enjoy it.”
At the end of the night’s championship session, Koll gave out the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler Award to University of California Davis’ Derek Moore, who won a national title at 141 pounds by way of technical fall over top-seeded Ryan Lang of Northwestern. This year’s award was given out in honor of Koll’s father, the NCAA tournament’s first-ever two-time Outstanding Wrestler Bill Koll.