January 22, 2003

Grapplers Hold Their Own At National Tournament

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Most observers would agree college wrestling is a hard business to be involved in, and the closer a team gets to the top, the tougher it gets. This weekend showed the Cornell grapplers just how hard the road can be, and went a long way towards preparing them for the nationally ranked competition they’ll see later in the season.

The Red traveled to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) National Duals in Columbus, Ohio. The meet, featuring some of the top wrestling programs in the country, paired the schools against each other in a series of dual meets to find its champion.

Early on Cornell took some hard knocks.

In the first round the No. 4 Red matched up against No. 21 Michigan State. The two produced five victories and five defeats each on the way to a 16-16 tie. The Red lost according to the eighth tiebreaker criteria, most near fall points.

Lee Injured

But the Red’s struggles still weren’t close to over. In the team’s next match, against Ohio State, sophomore All-American Travis Lee suffered a knee injury on his way to a 14-6 major decision.

The injury disqualified him from the remainder of the tournament and forced Cornell to forfeit the rest of its 125-pound matches, automatically putting the Red down six points for the remainder of its duals.

Undaunted by the early loss and Lee’s injury, Cornell battled its way back with three consecutive victories, defeating Ohio, No. 15 Iowa State and No. 10 Michigan.

Only the next day would a team find an answer to Cornell’s riddle, when No. 6 Ohio State beat the Red in the semifinals of the consolation bracket. Cornell wrestled for fifth place in the tournament, losing to No. 3 Minnesota 32-18 to earn sixth place.

“Our goal was to win the thing,” head coach Rob Koll said about the team’s original mindset.

Even so, The Red’s finish was the highest ever by an Ivy League school at the tournament.

Considering the Red’s injuries and the team’s grueling path, with some wrestlers going up against the best in the country for six consecutive matches, Koll was ultimately satisfied with his team’s performance.

According to Koll, the meet provided the team with some hard earned experience that would be invaluable in the upcoming duals season.

“It’s hard to get worried about kids who are just tough after you’ve wrestled against the best in the country,” he concluded.

Among the individual grapplers, Koll pointed to senior captain Clint Wattenberg and classmate Gabe Webster.

Webster matched up against four of the top six wrestlers in the country in the 157 pound weight class, including Nos. 1 and 2. He came away with a 2-4 tournament record.

Wattenberg was named the top Division I wrestler at the meet after posting a 6-0 record there.

“It’s a great honor, considering the country’s best are there,” noted Koll.

The team will spend this week preparing to open its dual meet season against Ohio State at the Friedman Wrestling Center, this Sunday at 2:00.

“This week we’ve got to get healthy,” said Koll, noting the beating his team took over the weekend.

But that’s not to say he or any of the wrestlers are worried about the team that knocked them off over the weekend.

“I’m not alone in feeling very confident that we can beat them,” Koll concluded.

Archived article by Matt James