March 12, 2002

Albany Bound: Wrestlers Send Seven to NCAAs

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Cornell had its first two EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) champions –freshman Travis Lee and junior Clint Wattenberg — since the 2000 version of the team, en route to placing an impressive seven grapplers into the NCAA tournament.

Joining Lee and Wattenberg in the NCAAs will be senior Jim Stanec, junior Gabe Webster and sophomores Alejandro Alvarez, Scott Roth and Matt Greenberg. Cornell has never sent this many wrestlers to the National Championships before.

On top of getting seven members of the team to the NCAAs, the squad finished the weekend’s competition at Lehigh in third place, despite taking on some of the best squads in the country. Finishing with 114.5 points, 3.5 points behind Ivy rivals Penn and a distant 16.5 points behind first-place Lehigh, the squad finished where it was projected to in the tournament.

“We would’ve liked to have won, but we’ll trade the win to get seven guys in [the NCAAs] any day,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Don’t get me wrong, but if you’d asked if I’d prefer taking six to Nationals and winning versus seven and not winning, I’d take the seven guys.”

The good news for Cornell was the way in which it captured third, joining Lehigh and Penn as the obvious class of the tournament. Fourth-placed

Harvard could only muster 86.5 points, well back of the top three teams. Lee was possibly Cornell’s most pleasant surprise of the weekend. The tournament’s third seed, Lee advanced through the 125-lb. weight class in impressive fashion. In the semifinals he met Mason Lenhard, last year’s defending champion in the weight class and a grappler who had taken Lee out 11-8 in a hard-fought bout earlier this season. Lee, the country’s 14th-ranked wrestler, walked away with a 5-2 win and a berth in the finals.

There, the young Hawaiian knocked off top-seeded Mario Stuart of Lehigh, 6-2, to claim his first EIWA title. Lee scored two takedowns of Stuart in the second and third periods to earn the victory. He now is just two weeks away from his first NCAA tournament.

“He’s absolutely fantastic,” Koll said. “He gets better every time he steps on the mat.

“I’m just excited and anxious to get out there. This is an exciting time,” Lee said. “I didn’t expect to win, but I didn’t consider myself out of the race.”

Cornell’s second championship of the weekend came just a short time later when the second-ranked Wattenberg took out Lehigh’s Rob Rohn for his title in the 184-lb. weight class. Wattenberg entered the competition the eighth-ranked grappler in the nation, but Rohn was an impressive sixth and the top seed. Wattenberg pulled out impressive third period heroics to score a 7-6 victory and his first Easterns championship. The win is impressive redemption for the wrestler who went 2-2 in last year’s Easterns despite his top billing in the 165-pound weight class.

“He’s been unstoppable in the second semester,” Koll noted. “Either of those guys [Lee and Wattenberg] could win it all.”

Cornell had two other wrestlers in the finals on Sunday, sophomores Alvarez at 133-pounds and Greenberg at 197-pounds. Each fell to Lehigh wrestlers after an impressive run through the tournament that punched their tickets to the big dance. Alvarez lost after a four-point move by the Mountain Hawk’s Dan Hyman in the third period. The sophomore eventually fell 9-4, but only after a tournament that saw him take down Columbia’s Steve Popovitch among others. Alvarez entered the tournament ranked second in his weight class.

Greenberg’s route to the finals included a victory over the second-ranked wrestler in the competition, Brown’s Nick Ciarcia. That double-overtime win offered Greenberg a chance to take on Lehigh’s Jon Trenge, a sophomore and the top seed at 197-pounds. Trenge was ranked second in the country coming into Easterns. The Red sophomore lost 6-0, but his strong showing earned him the spot at Nationals.

“I was so happy to see him get in,” Koll said. Senior Jim Stanec, junior Gabe Webster and sophomore Scott Roth will round out Cornell’s NCAA group, as each earned a wild card to the tournament. The selection is an honor bestowed upon wrestlers by the coaches. It is for those that, despite not finishing first or second at Easterns, deserve to go.

It would’ve been a travesty if [those three] had not gotten wild cards,” Koll said.

The best news for Cornell is that it could record its best showing ever when it takes seven grapplers to the NCAAs. With a few early round wins, and top finishes by its best wrestlers, the team could be shooting for a high finish.

“It’s certainly a lofty goal, but we’ll be shooting for a top-10,” Koll said. “If every guy scores points, we’ll certainly be right up there.”

The team will find out in a few weeks when the Championships open on March 21 at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y.

Archived article by Charles Persons