Glancing over at the towering Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association trophy that sits in his office — and the name-plates that read “Cornell” from the last 10 seasons — head coach Rob Koll sat up and said, “We’re trying to create a record that will never be broken as long as this sport is alive, and I think we’re well on our way.”
With that goal in mind, Cornell’s 14-time defending Ivy League champion wrestling team returns to action Saturday as it opens up the dual meet portion of its season with a matchup against Buffalo. The Red will also host the New York State Intercollegiate Championships on Sunday.
Although Saturday will mark the first dual meet of the year, many of Cornell’s wrestlers have already begun competing. Two weekends ago, senior Gabe Dean — now a two-time NCAA national champion — dominated his opponent at the NWCA All-Star Classic in Cleveland. The 174-pounder had no problems with Ohio State’s Myles Martin, the No. 2 wrestler in his weight class and another defending national champ. Dean came away with a 13-4 victory.
“Gabe’s really a freak of nature… he’s unbelievable to watch,” Koll said.
Last weekend, several Cornell wrestlers competed in the Bearcat Open in Binghamton. Senior Mark Grey and sophomore classmates Joey Galasso and Brandon Womack all took first place in their respective weight classes. Six more finished in second or third.
The Red is currently ranked eighth in the nation and is a heavy favorite to once again win both the Ivy League and Easterns. Koll, entering his 24th season at the helm, said he is confident in his team and has the same expectations he does almost every year.
“First of all, as always, we expect to win the Ivies, and we always expect to win the Easterns,” Koll said. “On top of that, our goal is to always get a trophy.”
While the Red has gotten used to winning Ivies and Easterns, getting a trophy — placing in the national top-four — is no easy task.
“Getting a trophy is pretty tough… but we have a very good team this year,” Koll said.
Cornell’s strong lineup is headlined by Gabe Dean (184), along with two-time All-American and 2015 national runner-up Brian Realbuto (174) and All-American Dylan Palacio (157). Palacio, a senior, will not wrestle this weekend, and Realbuto’s status remains in question as he recovers from an injury.
Overall, early on in the season, the Red is relatively banged up. In addition to Palacio and possibly Realbuto, the Red will be without Dylan Macri (125) who broke his hand at Binghamton last weekend.
“We have so many guys out of the lineup now — it’s hard,” Koll added.
Saturday’s opponent does not pose an overly challenging test, however. The Bulls are unranked, but are coming off their best season in several years. Last year, they went 10-9 in dual meets, and multiple NCAA qualifiers from last season have returned. On Saturday, two or three of Buffalo’s wrestlers will likely be favored to win their matches, in part because of the Cornell injuries.
Koll said he is still optimistic about his team’s chances, in spite of their myriad injuries.
“We expect to win on Saturday,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, Buffalo has some really good wrestlers, but I don’t believe they have 10 really good ones to beat us.”
If the Red can come away with the victory, it will be its 69th consecutive dual meet win against an unranked opponent.
On Sunday, Cornell will try for its fifth consecutive New York State title and its 12th overall. The Red, who will also host teams across each collegiate divisions at the all-day event, will compete against schools like Army, Binghamton, Hofstra and Buffalo once more.
Last season, the Red cruised to victory and took home five individual titles — three of those New York State champions will look to defend those titles once Sunday rolls around. If all goes as planned, this weekend should kick off the 2016-17 season on the right foot for Cornell as it continues its reign of dominance on the East Coast.
Saturday’s match begins at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday’s is an all-day affair. Both will take place in Newman Arena.