Undoubtedly, the heart and soul of the Red’s wrestling team last year was its seniors. Wrestlers like Bob Greenleaf, Aaron Taylor, Seth Charles, and Joe Tuceri won’t be forgotten soon by their teammates or coaches. Or their opponents for that matter, whom they dominated to an unprecedented degree, compiling a 487-265 record during their four years on the Easy Hill.
In most cases, losing those caliber guys would be a cause for worry. But for the 2000-2001 Cornell wrestling team, it could be a blessing in disguise.
“[This year’s team] is the most talent I’ve had in one room,” said head coach Rob Koll, “Last year’s seniors were the most experienced, not necessarily the most talented. They were hard workers and stuck with it. But that might not have been the best situation for these guys last year.”
With last year’s super senior class out of the picture, the hugely talented underclassmen will get a chance to strut their stuff on the mat this season. Here’s a glimpse at this year’s projected starters.
Alejandro Alvarez, 125 lbs: The Texas freshman came into the program with a bang, winning the wrestle-off against classmate Doug Jesse. Alvarez, a native of Mexico, only began wrestling four years ago, but is a two-time Texas state champ and one-time runner up. Look for big things from this wunderkind.
Sean Doyle, 133 lbs: 1999-2000 was Doyle’s first year of competition due to injuries. But the senior comes into this season ranked first in the East.
Tom Waldron, 141 lbs: Waldron has some big shoes to fill — those of Ben New, an All-Ivy selection last year. The sophomore, who was out last year with a couple of different injuries, was a two-time Pennsylvania state champ.
Gabe Webster, 149 lbs: Webster, a junior, had to split time with Alex Berman last year, but is now the top dog in his class. Like Waldron, he was a two-time Pennsylvania state champ. Webster may see a challenge from freshman Andy Breiner, who had five falls last weekend at the Ithaca College tourney.
Leo Urbinelli, 157 lbs: Cornell is ridiculously stacked at 157 — besides Urbinelli, who was Eastern runner-up last year, fellow senior Alex Berman, who had 21 wins last year, moves up from 149.
Clint Wattenburg, 165 lbs: The junior tri-captain has been ranked as high as fifth in the country in certain polls. Injured last year, Wattenburg had to have knee surgery half-way through the year. Expect him to be an All-American.
Jim Stanec, 174 lbs: After splitting time last year between 165 and 174, the senior will be spending this entire season at the latter. Koll characterizes Stanec as, “an absolutely unbelievable worker.”
Chris Gafner and Rich Desoto, 184 lbs: This weight class might be a question mark in terms of starters, but certainly not in terms of experience: Desoto and Gafner have put in a combine seven years in the Cornell program. Desoto suffered season-ending injuries the past two years, but expect him to be strong this year.
Corey Anderson, 197 lbs: Anderson enters the year as a senior tri-captain and a defending Eastern champ.
Buck McLamb, Hwt: No one will feel the absence of the Class of ’00 more than McLamb. He is the heir apparent to Seth Charles, who compiled a 90-39 record in his time at Cornell. McLamb was a three-time Texas state champion, and was the freshman wrestler of the year last year.
Koll enthusiastically commented, “There are no real holes. Other teams might look at us on paper and say, ‘they’ve lost this kid and this kid and this kid,’ but they don’t realize how talented the underclassmen are who are stepping up. Perceived weaknesses could turn out to be strengths.”
Despite all the apparent talent, no preseason poll has Koll’s squad ranked in the top-20, while Ivy peer Penn has managed to accomplish that feat. But that’s not cause for worry among the coaching staff.
“[We aren’t ranked in the top-20] because we’ve lost so many top performers. But every year we start off in the top-40 and end up in the top-20. historically, we haven’t had the top recruits in the nation, and the teams who get those kids get the rankings,” noted Koll.
Within the Ivy League, the Red will see its most intense competition from Penn and Harvard. The Quakers have the most firepower, and the Crimson has a little more depth, but both are solid squads that have given Cornell fits in the past.
All in all, the Red’s fortunes rest on its youth, and Koll knows it.
“The young guys are champing at the bit, and time will tell how they do.”
Archived article by Tom McNulty