Penn State. Iowa. Oklahoma. Missouri. These schools come to mind when most people think of wrestling powerhouses; however, Cornell is slowly joining these elite few as one of the top-performing programs in the nation. On Saturday night, senior Kyle Dake etched his name into the NCAA record books when he became the first Division I wrestler to win four national titles in four separate weight divisions. Dake’s accomplishment was not only a great personal feat, but also a big moment for the Red, as the Lansing native thrust Cornell Athletics into the national spotlight.
“I think [the attention] provides support that our athletic program is relevant nationally — certainly, in wrestling it is,” said Director of Athletics Andy Noel. “In the last five years for sure, we have been in the Top-5 and we have been second twice [at the NCAA tournament] … There are a lot of outstanding athletes at Cornell and a lot of teams that are relevant nationally … Outsiders look at Cornell as having a combination of serious students and serious athletes. It does a lot to show that you can do both.”
Since assuming the helm of the Cornell program in 1993, head coach Rob Koll has made a name for himself and the Red in the world of collegiate wrestling. Under Koll, Cornell witnessed multiple athletes earn a place on the elite list of NCAA All-Americans and be recognized with EIWA and All-Ivy League honors.
Over the weekend in Iowa, freshman Nahshon Garrett, junior Mike Nevinger and seniors Steve Bosak and Kyle Dake were named NCAA All-Americans after each placed in the Top-5 for their respective divisions. Nevinger earned his second All-American honor with his fifth place finish, Bosak earned his third with third place finish and Dake claimed his fourth award for his first place performance.
The old adage “like father, like son” seems apropos for Dake’s family, as his father Doug Dake was an Ohio State champion and a NCAA All-American at Kent State in 1985. The elder Dake was able to share in his son’s accomplishment in Des Moines, becoming visibly emotional once the senior was named champion.
“[Dake’s] father is a former All-American,” Noel said. “To see Dougie Dake in tears for his kid is pretty amazing — really pretty amazing.”
Other recent NCAA All-Americans for the Red have included four-time honoree Cam Simaz ’12, two-time honoree Mack Lewnes ’11 and four-time honoree Troy Nickerson ’10. Koll coached one All-American in 2001, two All-Americans the following year, three All-Americans in 2003 and 2004 and four All-Americans a year from 2005 until 2010. In 2011, the Red had five wrestlers earn spots on the prestigious list, including Mike Grey ’11, Dake, Bosak, Lewnes and Simaz . One year later, Koll coached five more wrestlers to All-American status, including Frank Perelli ’12, Nevinger, Dake, Bosak and Simaz.
Lewnes and Simaz hold the records for the most career wins for the Red, boasting 150 and 145, respectively. Dake trails not too far behind in fourth place with 137 career wins. The Cornell program under Koll has grown stronger each year, which is evident across almost every statistical category. Lewnes (55), Simaz (47), Dake (44), Bosak (39) and Nickerson (38) round out the Top-5 for career fall leaders.
The Red has begun to carve a name for itself, both in the Ivy League and on a national level. In 2011 and 2012, nine wrestlers represented Cornell, helping the team to first and fifth place finishes, respectively. While each wrestler’s performance carries a large individual significance, the success of the team as a whole depends on the group’s collective performance.
“It’s an individual challenge when you are out there by yourself, but it’s a whole team dynamic and our team dynamic is really strong,” Noel said.
Supporting each other is a fundamental philosophy for the Red. Dake and Bosak are no exception to the rule.
“It is pretty cool to have someone right beside you when you have all of your success,” Dake said. “[Bosak] has always been there and we have been going out and doing great things on the national level. To be able to have someone to share that time with has been great.”
Despite the fact that Bosak and Dake will graduate in a few weeks, the future of the Red looks bright. Wrestlers like Garrett look to carry on the fight as their accomplished predecessors pass the torch to the next generation of competitors.
“It will be a little depressing [when the seniors graduate], but you have to continue the legacy,” Garrett said. “Some other guys have to move up and make a name for themselves too. You have to move forward.”
With one national appearance under his belt, Garrett’s potential for greatness is infinite as he prepares for next season with the Red.
“[Garrett] is an incredible talent — he is very athletic and used his athleticism to take third in the country,” Dake said. “I am scared for the people that he faces next year when he really learns how to wrestle because he is going to be something special. I am excited for him because he is going to get so much better and his ceiling is so high. He is going to be one of the all-time greats.”
While the rookie still has a lot to work on before next year, he has begun to build a strong foundation for a successful career at Cornell.
“I have a lot to work on and this tournament helped me to realize that,” Garrett said. “I feel like I am still raw in the sport. I rely mostly on my athletic abilities to win and it gets me pretty far but I really want to be more technically sound so that way when I do wrestle, I know what I am doing and how to move people.”
Continuing to build his wrestling empire, Koll has recruited a strong class of incoming freshmen.
“We signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country last year,” Koll said. “I don’t want to talk about those guys until they step on campus and do some damage. … Our goal is to get better every year. We expect to be in contention for a national championship every year.”
Original Author: Lauren Ritter