Sometimes the truth can be dressed up by cute sayings and flowery adjectives. And sometimes, it’s just more powerful to state the facts as they stand. In a historic weekend for the wrestling program, Cornell’s wrestlers picked up an individual title, as well as second, third and fourth places en route to finishing second in the NCAA tournament, behind powerful Iowa. Stated simply, the Red wrestling team gave its all in Omaha, and the results speak for themselves. The Red, which entered the championships ranked third in the country, earned its highest NCAA finish in school history.
Four of Cornell’s wrestlers who qualified for the tournament were crowned All-Americans, including freshman Kyle Dake, who took home the national title at 141 pounds. Junior Mack Lewnes earned second place at 174 pounds, sophomore Cam Simaz earned third place and senior Troy Nickerson, himself a former national champion, earned a fourth-place finish at 125 pounds.
Dake earned his first title by a score of 7-4, showing his strength on top and his defensive capabilities. Dake earned a takedown, near fall and over two-and-a-half minutes in riding time. While impressive for many reasons, Dake was also wrestling through injury the entire weekend, after badly reinjuring his ankle on Wednesday. The freshman’s national title was therefore indicative not only of his technical prowess, but of his tremendous heart. Wrote head coach Rob Koll in an email, “[Dake] is a stud.”
After winning the title Dake was quoted by a reporter from the Ithaca Journal as saying, “Yeah, I won a national title this year, but I wanted to be an undefeated national champ. That's something I can work for and something that I’m going to work for. I said it at the beginning of the year in Win Magazine that I want to be a four-time national champ, and you got to get one to get four, so I have three more to go.
“Looking over in the corner and seeing Koll and coach [Jeremy] Spates jumping in the air and then right behind them you see this sea of red shirts with a big white ‘C’ in the front of them, everyone going nuts. It was loud in there. It was pretty cool. I don't know how else to explain it. It was really cool.”
Dake, a “true freshman” — meaning he has not redshirted or taken a year off previously — was also named EIWA Freshman of the Year as the first true freshman to be crowned national champion in five years. Dake merely added to a strong Cornell tradition in the department, however, as four of the past five Freshman of the Year have sported Cornellian colors: Cam Simaz (2009), Mack Lewnes (2008) and Troy Nickerson (2006).
In Lewnes’ championship bout he was matched up against Iowan Jay Borschel, the No. 2 seed. Both were undefeated going into the match, which was one of the most highly anticipated of the tournament. While Lewnes wrestled hard throughout, his opponent earned the win with multiple takedowns and 3:46 in riding time.
Nickerson has battled serious shoulder problems for the past three years, and his consistent resilience in making the tournament has been lauded constantly by his peers and coaches alike. His courage was on full display throughout the weekend as on multiple occasions his shoulder came out and had to be reinserted into place. Nickerson could easily have taken an injury default but continued instead to return to the mat time after time.
Koll wrote in an email, “[Nickerson] never considered this option because he didn’t want to let down his teammates, coaches and fans.”
After a second round loss, Nickerson was matched against Angle Escobedeo of Indiana in his third-place bout. The two wrestled back and forth in what seemed to be a very even match up. The Indiana wrestler’s takedown in the first period proved to be the deciding — and only — two points of the match as Nickerson ultimately fell, 2-0.
Simaz wrestled a strong tournament, and his first lost came in the semifinals, to the three-time champion Jake Varner. Moving on to his third-place match Simaz was paired with No. 3 Hudson Taylor, of Maryland. The match was aggressive from the start, with both wrestlers shooting fast and early. With the score tied at two apiece the bout moved into sudden overtime. A confident-looking Simaz circled for a takedown to quickly dispatch of the Maryland opponent once and for all. Before the consolation finals match, Taylor and Simaz had faced each other three times, all three of which were carried by the Maryland wrestler.
“In my mind,” wrote Koll in an email, “this was Cam’s single greatest victory to date.”
At 133, junior Mike Grey made it through to the All-American round but ultimately fell short. At 165 pounds sophomore Justin Kerber wrestled well despite what has been at times a difficult season. In his first match he defeated an opponent who had wrestled Kerber, and won by major decision, earlier this year. Koll has predicted that next year Kerber will make it to the podium.
At 184, sophomore Steve Bosak won three of his matches en route to making it into the All-American round, leaving his coaches expecting an even better result from Bosak for next season. “This finish should help Steve realize just how good he can be,” Koll wrote in an email. Finishing out the Red’s rotation at heavyweight was senior Josh Arnone, who has had a tumultuous career at Cornell. Arnone lost both of his matches, but finished up his season with the respect of his coaches and peers, Koll said. Due to previous injuries, Koll only permitted the senior to wrestle one day a week in order to not wear him out too quickly. This unique regimen did ensure Arnone relative health coming into the tournament, but ultimately he simply was not big enough on a practical level to match up with his class’s top seeds.
The Red will now finally have a chance to relax and recuperate following its long and exhausting season. The squad certainly has a lot to be proud of following the tournament’s conclusion, something Koll has stated on multiple occasions. In an email sent to friends of the wrestling program, Koll wrote, “I’m back from Omaha and still riding a high from the weekend. Every wrestler wrestled well whether in victory or defeat. I am so honored to be a part of the greatest NCAA tournament performance in Cornell wrestling history.”
In the Friedman Wrestling Center, the large digital clock on the wall has been reset. “Next year we should be ranked in the preseason as the No.1 team in the county,” Koll wrote in an email, “and I fully expect to end the season in the same position! Mark your calendars. There are only 359 days until Philly.” And the countdown continues.