Comebacks, upsets, and crossed fingers all played their part, as the No. 6 wrestling team took second place at this year’s EIWA championships. Despite finishing behind No. 3 Lehigh, head coach Rob Koll took comfort in his team’s performance.
“Winning the Easterns would be gravy, and I’d certainly like to do it, but it’s not what bothers me,” said Koll. “What bothers me is keeping kids at home.”
Cornell’s coach can rest easily, however, as eight of his 10 grapplers will soon be traveling to Kansas City for the NCAA championships. Five of the eight earned spots by wrestling their way into the finals, while freshman Dustin Manotti, and juniors Tyler Baier and Scott Roth had to wait for wildcard invitations.
Manotti suffered a tough break, dropping a close match to Penn’s Jody Giuricich. Manotti battled back, however, winning his next two matches to finish third in the 149-pound weight class. Despite the freshman’s third-place finish, he remained confident about receiving a wildcard bid.
“I was a little worried, but I knew if I wrestled hard I could come back and take third, I’d be okay,” Manotti said.
Roth, who remained the longshot by finishing fourth at 165-pounds, was respectful of his opponent and thankful for the judging system.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Roth. “I’m just glad it’s set up how it is and that we get the chance to have wildcards.”
Baier, finished third at 174-pounds after dominating Harvard’s Pat O’Donnell. Baier finished the weekend as one of Cornell’s comeback kings, avenging his tournament loss to O’Donnell and a regular season loss to Penn’s Matt Herrington.
Fifth-place finisher senior Byron Warner also made a comeback in the tournament. While suffering a loss to Princeton’s Joe Clarke earlier in the weekend, Warner came back and beat Clarke in his final match of the day.
Koll’s pride in Warner and Baier was evident from his comments.
“Byron Warner did a fantastic job taking fifth,” said Koll. “Tyler Baier wrestled a sensational tournament, beating two kids who beat him earlier in the year.”
The tournament’s largest upset came in the 184-pound final between senior All-American Clint Wattenberg and Princeton’s Greg Parker.
Wattenberg wasted little time, earning a takedown within the first minute of the match and racking up 23 seconds in riding time. Parker countered with an escape. Wattenberg drove the score to 4-1 with a second takedown before Parker began to chip slowly away at the score. Two escapes later, Parker had pulled within one. The Tiger ended the match a few seconds later by pinning Wattenberg.
With the loss, the All-American dropped to 35-3 on the season. Wattenberg also joined four other Cornellians for second place in their respective weight classes. Among the other second-place finishers were junior Alejandro Alvarez, and seniors Matt Greenberg and Gabe Webster.
Cornell’s only first-place winner of the tournament was sophomore All-American Travis Lee. With the win, he moved to a perfect 29-0 mark.
Lee’s match was not without issues, however, as Matt Valenti from Penn took a questionable injury timeout. With the score tied at one, things looked tough for Cornell. Lee, however, sealed the deal with a late takedown.
“He did the same thing to the kid in the dual meet,” said Koll. “[Valenti] actually took him down, we were losing, and then came back. The kid took an injury timeout and Travis broke him again.”
Koll also spoke of Lehigh and its dominance of the Eastern league.
“They’re just a different level,” he said. “Every one of their kids is like Wattenberg and Travis.”
Still, Koll remained optimistic about beating Lehigh in the future.
“They’ve got some fantastic talent in that room, talent we’re starting to get with our new facility. Those are the kinds of kids we’re attracting to our program now and we expect to be at that level in the very near future.”
Archived article by Matt Janiga