The No. 5 Red has yet to earn a team title at the NCAA National Championships in its program history, but has been knocking on the door, having finished second in each of the past two seasons. Starting on Thursday, March 15 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., the team will look to wrap up its season as the best team in the nation. Quarterfinal and semifinal round matches are on Friday. Saturday morning will be the championship medal round, with the ten championship finals will take place beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night. All of the action will be broadcast on ESPN3.com, while the finals will be broadcast on ESPN.Like last year, the team will send nine wrestlers to compete. However, unlike last season the squad will not go into the tournament ranked as the best team in the nation. The Red is not as deep throughout the lineup, with fewer seeded wrestlers at the tournament — only four compared to seven. However, the team is top-heavy in talent, boasting two No. 1 seeds — senior Cam Simaz at 197 pounds and junior Kyle Dake at 157 pounds.“We have four guys on paper that should place, and we’re going to have to get some other guys wrestle significantly above their seeds, and we might need a little bit of help,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Penn State has a lot of fire power. We can wrestle well over our heads and still lose by 30 points if somebody doesn’t knock them off.”No team other than Cornell and the defending nation champion, Penn State, has more than one wrestler seeded No. 1 in his weight class. Penn State not only has three top-seeded wrestlers, but also has No. 6 Quentin Wright at 184 pounds, who is a returning national champion. Traditional powerhouse, Iowa, with eight qualifiers — seven of whom are seeded in the Top-5 of their bracket — will also contend for a team title. This year’s National Duals champion, Minnesota, has nine qualifiers like Cornell, but no wrestler seeded No. 1 in his bracket. Oklahoma State also has nine wrestlers competing this weekend, as well as a No. 1 at 133 pounds.Both of the Red’s top-seeds have a lot to gain with an individual title. Not only would it cap an undefeated season for both (an injury default is credited as a loss for Simaz), but it would enhance their legacies.Simaz has built an accomplished career with the Red — one which includes the third-most wins in school history and four EIWA titles, has yet to earn an NCAA title. The senior lost in the semifinals of last year’s national tournament, and has finished third each of the previous two seasons.Dake can add to his legacy not only in the annals of Cornell history, but also in those of collegiate wrestling history. The two-time national champion will have won more national titles than any other Cornell wrestler if he wins his third on Saturday. The title would also make him one of only 24 wrestlers in NCAA history to have been champions exactly 3 times. Only two men have ever been 4-time champions.Neither No. 1 admitted feeling any extra pressure to win this year.“Pressure is only what you put on yourself,” Dake said. “I don’t really get nervous for matches, I just get excited.”“I’ve come to realize that pressure doesn’t help,” Simaz said. “I might be lying a little when I say that because I absolutely want that title really badly, but I try not to have any pressure on me.”Pressure has brought down many great wrestlers in the early rounds of previous tournaments, Simaz added.Also seeded for the Red is senior Frank Perrelli who is No. 6 at 125 pounds. After an early second-round exit last season, Perrelli looks to become a first-time All-American this season. Senior Steve Bosak, No. 4 at 184 pounds, also hopes to improve upon last season’s performance when he finished fourth. Bosak lost in the semifinals to Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin — a familiar foe who has given Bosak trouble over the past two seasons. If the two see each other again in St. Louis, it would be in the finals.Also qualifying for the national tournament for the Red by virtue of their performances at the EIWA championships are sophomores Nick Arujua (133), Mike Nevinger (141), Chris Villalonga (141) and Marshall Peppelman (165). At heavyweight, senior Maciej Jochym received an at-large bid, so he will also have the opportunity to compete.Jochym is set to face teammate Striker Lane’s older brother from Nebraska in his first-round matchup. Wrestling at nationals caps a great come-back story for the heavyweight, according to Koll. The coach noted that after Jochym’s freshman year, the senior took some time off from both the team and school. He returned to the team last year at 197 pounds, but with Simaz the undisputed starter at that weight did not have a chance to start.“This year he decided sitting on the bench was less entertaining than being a little heavy and making the team,” Koll said. “He’s come back and become a very popular, great team leader.”A strong performance at nationals will not only sweeten the end to Jochym’s story, but it may also help the team put up enough points to win a team title.
Original Author: Brian Bencomo