On Saturday, the Big Red wrestling team will inaugurate its season, when six teams converge on Newman Arena for the annual Cornell Invitational sponsored by Body Bars Systems.
It may be a baptism by fire for the young Cornell team as Appalachian State, Army, Drexel, Ithaca College, North Carolina, and Cornell bring two wrestlers apiece for each class.
Each squad traditionally has had good wrestlers, but the Tar Heels field an amazing arsenal of talent. Although they only have three returning seniors, UNC has six wrestlers with NCAA Tournament experience, and five Alantic Coast Conference champions coming to Ithaca this weekend.
“UNC has a great wrestling tradition; I should know,” said Cornell head coach Rob Koll, who is a former Tar Heel wrestler.
In particular, UNC brings Chuckie Connor at 125, who is ranked fourth in the country, and Corey Bell at 174, who is currently eighth. Army firepower is represented by Maurice Worthy, who is seventh, and 20th-ranked John Paxton. Ithaca College boasts Ryan Ciotoli, who is top-ranked in Division III wrestling.
“There’s pretty good competition coming; [the Invitational] should be a measuring stick for the rest of the season,” senior tri-captain Leo Urbinelli commented.
The Big Red won the Invitational last year, but it will be tougher to garner top honors this year. Besides the presence of UNC, Cornell will not be wrestling with a heavyweight at this tournament. Sophomore Buck McLamb is currently injured; the heavyweight banged up an already injury-weakened knee in practice this week.
The big story of the Invitational, however, will be the performance of the Red’s underclassmen. With eight seniors graduated from last year’s squad, the hopes of the team rest with freshman and sophomore finishes.
“We expect quite a bit from the freshmen. There’s no excuse for them not to do well,” said Koll.
“It will definitely be hard to compete against North Carolina without a heavyweight,” noted Urbinelli, “but we want to challenge them. We should be in the top two for sure.
“Since two guys [wrestle at each class], we’ll get get to see what a lot of people can do.”
Pre-season freshman phenom Alejandro Alvarez will get his first look at collegiate competition this weekend. After his performance at the team’s wrestle-off, the Red needs a good outing from him and fellow freshman Doug Jesse, both at 125.
“I want to show them what I can do. I want to prove that I’m meant to be here,” enthused Alvarez.
Archived article by Tom McNulty