November 19, 2003

Taking the Next Step

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When one makes the jump to collegiate wrestling. The general expectation is that the first year is about adjustment and gaining experience that one will use in later years. Certainly, few wrestlers make a huge impact their freshman years. Fewer make it to the NCAAs. And only a handful of these grapplers place high enough for All-America status. This accomplishment is so rare, in fact, that in the history of Cornell wrestling, only two wrestlers have ever been able to achieve this feat. Luckily for the Red, both these wrestlers are currently on the team.

One of these wrestlers, junior Travis Lee, needs no introduction, as he is the defending national champion in the 125-pound weight class. The other wrestler is his teammate, sophomore Dustin Manotti, who appears to be on his way to becoming one of the top wrestlers in the nation. Manotti followed in Lee’s footsteps, making a name for himself in his freshman season. He finished eighth in the 149-pound weight class at the NCAA tournament, garnering an All-America nod. Manotti was also awarded Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors, making him the second straight Cornellian to receive that accolade.

What made these accomplishments all the more impressive is that no one expected him to do so much so early in his career. Unlike other top recruits in his class, Manotti had never won a state title in high school, with his highest finish being second in his junior year. It was only last year that Manotti surprised everyone by becoming a presence on the national scene.

Despite all the success during his first year, Manotti seems unfazed by the accomplishments of last season and the press surrounding him coming into this year.

“I haven’t really thought about the NCAAs that much since I was there,” Manotti said. “I have been concentrating on my mistakes from last year, and working on my technique. My goal, of course, is to be a national champion this season.”

Hailing from Miffleburg, Pa., a small rural town where he has lived all his life, Manotti learned to wrestle from an early age.

“I can’t really remember when I started to wrestle. I think it was since kindergarten. It was so long ago,” Manotti said.

He learned much about the sport from his father, who as a former wrestler, coached for 14 years at a local high school. When he was younger, Manotti would accompany his dad to local meets. Then, after having a successful career at Miffleburg Area High School, Manotti found himself a target of colleges around the country..

When deciding on which institution to attend, Manotti chose Cornell because he found it to be “a really great college, with a really great wrestling program, and one of the elite schools in the country.”

As is seen by the success of his rookie season, Manotti had little trouble making the jump to college wrestling and finding his place on one of the top programs in the country.

“It was a bit of an adjustment but it wasn’t extremely difficult. It was mostly working on the little things. I am still learning of course,” he said.

During the season, he compiled an impressive 33-10 record, good for the third highest win count on the team, behind fellow All-Americans Lee and Clint Wattenberg ’03.

His record earned him a berth to the NCAAs, where he quickly made a name for himself by defeating several of the top wrestlers in the nation, including Ty Eustice of Iowa and Hofstra’s Jon Masa. His one big loss came to Jared Lawreence of Minnesota 11-1, who was the defending national champion at the time.

“I was really excited to be there. I was thrilled and a bit nervous. Obviously it was great to be an All-American.” Manotti said of his experience.

This season, Manotti looks to build upon the success last season to take him to the next level, his ultimate goal being a national championship.

“We expect great things out of Dustin,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Hopefully a national championship before he is out of here and hopefully sooner than later.”

Archived article by Chris Callanan