Just steps away from the Friedman Wrestling Center, the No. 5 Red kicked off its 2011-12 season Friday night at the more spacious Newman Arena against No. 3 Minnesota in its first match since placing second at last year’s NCAA championships. Despite the loss of five seniors, Cornell looked sharp in its opening contest, knocking off the Golden Gophers, 21-16.
“We have some promising young guys to carry us through the season and help us accomplish our goal,” said senior captain Steve Bosak when asked about the team’s ultimate goal of finishing No. 1 in the nation.
Cornell earned the upset victory with the help of No. 1-ranked senior Cam Simaz’s win over No. 2 Sonny Yohn in the 197-pound weight class, while sophomores Mike Nevinger (141 pounds) and Craig Eifert (157 pounds) contributed with wins against Top-10 wrestlers in their respective weight classes. The Red also returned two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake, who enters the year ranked No. 1 in the 157-pound weight class. The junior garnered a victory for the team in his matchup with No. 8 Jake Deitchler.
“The game plan of the team and myself is the same: win,” Simaz said. “Do whatever you have to do to get a win. If the individual wins, then the team will win.”
“Don’t lose,” said head coach Rob Koll when asked about the team’s game plan against Minnesota.
In the 184-pound weight class, No.4 Bosak earned a takedown on No. 6 Kevin Steinhaus only two minutes. Bosak took a 4-0 lead into the second period with two back points, and escaped from Steinhaus to record the only point of the period. Steinhaus chose neutral in the third, but Bosak took him down once again. Despite a reverse from the Golden Gopher with 30 seconds left, Bosak held on to earn the victory, 8-2.
Dake continued his success from last seson, taking an early lead in the first period; however, the junior chose down to start the second period. Deitchler called injury time and Dake chose down when the play resume, increasing his lead to with an escape, 4-0. With 2:25 left, Dake won a 5-0 decision to tie the score, 9-9.
Another noteworthy rivalry occurred in a matchup featuring No. 1 Simaz and No. 2 Yohn in the 197-pound weight class. Simaz held a narrow lead after the first period, 2-1, as the Golden Gopher escaped from a takedown attempt. Yohn escaped again to open the second period, but Simaz notched two more takedowns to take the lead, 6-3. Simaz quickly reversed Yohn to start the third period, and with 56 seconds remaining, the Red senior earned three back points. Simaz extended his lead, 14-4, when he turned his opponent on his back, ultimately winning by fall at 6:46. Simaz's fifth-straight pin of the season earned Cornell six team points, sealing the victory over Minnesota.
The weekend continued with the Red hosting the annual Body Bar Systems Invitational on Saturday. The Red was victorious in the tournament, winning the team title and crowning three champions — Dake, Bosak and freshman Billy George. Cornell squared off with nine other teams at Newman including the same Minnesota squad that it defeated the night before. Virginia, Drexel, Army, Ithaca, Kent State, Lock Haven, Buffalo and Binghamton were also in attendance.
“We knew Kent State has a really good team,” Koll said. “All of those teams might not be household names in football or basketball … but they all have a couple of really good kids … We knew we weren’t going to the finals without really tough matches.”
Dake pinned his first two opponents of the day and came out on top in the semifinals, 10-0, over Lock Haven's Jacob Kemmerer. The Ithaca native earned the individual title in the finals, defeating No. 17 Frank Hickman of Bloomsburg, 3-2.
George began the day ranked No. 6 at 174 pounds, winning his preliminary match and followed that up with a 3-2 victory over Columbia’s Steven West of Columbia. The rookie defeated No. 2 Mike Dessino of Bloomsburg to advance to the finals, where he found himself down in the third period against Kent State’s Brandon Johnson, but battled back to tie, 6-6, to send the match into extra time. Neither George nor Johnson scored in sudden victory. Johnson had the choice to start the tiebreakers, but was trapped in his starting down position. With just seconds left, after starting from his choice down position, George escaped to win a nail-biting match, 7-6.
“[Billy] is one of our favorites … he’s so sincerely obnoxiously positive,” Koll said. “That’s just who he is. That’s why you love to be around the guy all the time. He just makes you feel good about yourself. He’s thrilled to be here and he’s thrilled to be competing. He’ll have no regrets when he walks off the mat … He makes every moment count … I hope the entire team can feed off of what Billy is doing with his career.”
No. 4 Bosak opened his day with a 13-0 major decision before pinning his next two opponents. In the finals Bosak faced No. 15 Jon Fausey of Virginia, and secured the title with a 2-0 victory.
At 197 pounds, Simaz started with a win by technical fall before pinning Bloomsburg's Richard Perry at 3:04 in the quarterfinals. Simaz was in the lead in his semifinal bout heading into the second period, but injury forced a default at 3:30. Simaz medically forfeited to finish in fourth place for the day.
“[Simaz] pulled his hamstring pretty severely,” Koll said. “You can’t push through it … He won’t be wrestling anytime in the near future … whether the near future is two weeks or two months, I don’t know.”
The Red finished off the day victorious with 186.5 points, finishing ahead of second place Kent State (150 points).
Looking ahead, the Red will break Thanksgiving, but returns to competition on Dec. 2 at the 30th annual Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev.
“We plan on setting short term goals where we work hard in the room, get better, stay aggressive and instill a competitive attitude where we are always looking to win,” Bosak said.