The odor of a wrestling gym is usually as thick and pungent as that of the foulest locker room. However, at the NCAA wrestling championships in Albany on Saturday, the smell of history hung over the two wrestlers representing Cornell. With performances worthy of the highest praise, junior Clint Wattenberg and freshman Travis Lee wrestled their way into the Red’s record books, earning All-American honors in the process.
Competing in the 184 lbs. weight class, Wattenberg was nearly flawless on his way to a sixth-place finish. Wattenberg might have finished even higher had he not fallen victim to one of the most talked about miscalls of the tournament.
In his quarterfinal match against Damion Hahn of Minnesota, the Red captain was twice penalized for locking hands on a single shot. The call cost Wattenberg two points and eventually the match after a third period which saw Hahn stalling by running from his opponent.
“It was the weirdest call I have ever seen,” said head coach Rob Koll of the controversy. “It’s a shame to see a guy lose on such a strange call like that, especially when his opponent wouldn’t wrestle in the final period.”
Wattenberg could’ve thrown in the towel after the fiasco, but instead went out seeking revenge against his remaining opponents. Winning by a combined score of 15-4 in his next two contests, Wattenberg fell one point short of a shot at third place to Iowa’s Jessman Smith, 2-1.
Wattenberg was not taken down at any point in the tournament, while losing his three matches by a total of two points.
“I could’ve won every match and that makes me real optimistic about next year,” Wattenberg said, “just a couple of adjustments should make the difference next year.”
That difference could very well mean a national championship for Wattenberg his senior year. After all, Wattenberg defeated the 185-lbs. national champion — Lehigh’s Rob Rohn — just a few weeks ago at the EIWA championships.
When asked what his goal would be for his final season on East Hill Wattenberg quickly answered, “A national championship … no doubt.”
Lee was scrambling his way to history on the mats at Albany on Saturday in the 125 lbs. weight class. By outlasting his opponents match after match, Lee became the first Cornell freshman, as well as the first Hawaiian in collegiate wrestling history, to be named an All-American according to Koll.
About his precedent setting performance Lee said, “Wrestling is not as popular in Hawaii so hopefully any recognition I get helps to change that and open the sport to other kids [from Hawaii].”
Lee made All-American the hard way, battling from six points down in the second period to defeat Edinboro’s Shawn Bunch on an overtime takedown on the tournament’s second day.
“He is the best wrestler I have ever seen in controlling the tempo of a match in the second and third periods.” said Wattenberg of his younger teammate’s ability to tire out his opponent, “He just picks guys apart.”
The scrappy first year wrestler continued his heroics against UNC’s Chris Rodriguez in the match for seventh place. Lee had lost to Rodriguez earlier in the season but dominated throughout Saturday’s match, eventually claiming a 14-4 victory.
“Travis was real tough in the postseason, beating three guys he had lost to [during the regular season],” commented Koll, “I heard complete strangers talking about him which was neat.”
“I didn’t quite do as well as I thought I should’ve during the season but I guess I sort of made up for that [during the postseason],” added Lee.
The weekend was particularly special because it was only the third time in Cornell history that multiple teammates were named All-American. However, to say it was an unexpected result would be misguided.
“Most people were saying what a surprise it was to see two [Cornell] wrestlers on the All-American team. To me, anything less would’ve been a disappointment,” Koll said.
On the strength of its two returning All-Americans, next year’s squad will have even greater pressure to perform.
“Two was great, but what I’d really like to see is four or five of our guys going to All-American … and we can do that next year,” finished Koll.
The stench of hard work may be unbearable at times, but the fumes of success can be ever so sweet. A combination of each will only strengthen Cornell’s resolve as the wrestling program continues its rise to national prominence on the backs of its All-Americans.
Archived article by Scott Jones