The wrestling team crisscrossed the country over break, but the grapplers weren’t looking for sun and slopes. They wanted wins. Despite a grueling schedule, which included matches against top-ranked opponents at some of the nation’s toughest tournaments, the team earned three victories. However, the Red also suffered five losses, and its lineup took a blow when junior starter Joe Mazzurco suffered what could be a season-ending injury.
After a brief Christmas recess, the team went back to work quickly, heading to Evanston, Ill. for the Midlands Invitational. Of the 62 teams entered in the two-day event, Cornell finished ninth, and five Red wrestlers placed in the top 10.
Sophomore Dustin Manotti led the pack with a second place finish in the 149-pound class. Manotti entered the meet with a nine-match winning streak. During the tournament, the 165-pound wrestler added four more victories to extend his string to 13. But his hopes for an undefeated season ended when Iowa State’s Trent Paulson beat Manotti, 8-5, in the final match.
Defending national champion Travis Lee saw his own streak come to an end at the tournament as well. Lee, who entered the event undefeated in his last 42 bouts, faced unseeded Donald Lockett of San Francisco State in the second round. In a major upset, Lockett beat Lee, 6-5. But Lee, undeterred by the loss, went on to win the rest of his matches, beating seven seeded wrestlers to capture third place.
“Travis got off to a slow start. I think a lot of it was that he had traveled a lot and had a time zone difference, and he just looked very sluggish throughout the whole tournament,” said head coach Rob Koll. “But he’s come back and wrestled really well since then.”
At 165 pounds, Mazzurco advanced to the quarterfinals with wins over wrestlers from Penn and Lock Haven before falling to David Bolyard of Central Michigan. The loss sent Mazzurco to the consolation bracket, where Mazzurco dominated his opponents, winning his next three matches. But in the finals, third seeded Nick Passolano of Iowa State beat Mazzurco, 6-4, giving Mazzurco a fourth place finish.
Seniors Matt Greenberg and Randy Stout also wrestled well. Greenberg placed sixth overall after advancing to the semifinals in the 197-pound class, and Stout posted a 3-2 record in the 184-pound class.
“We didn’t wrestle particularly well at Midlands, even though we had four place,” continued Koll. “But on the bright side, that was more people than we’ve ever had place in that tournament in the history of the program.”
After only a few days’ rest, the Red hit the road for another shootout, this time against Oklahoma, Cal State-Fullerton, and Wisconsin at the Lone Star Duals in Prairie, Tex. The meet, Cornell’s first dual competition of the season, proved tough for the ninth-ranked Cornell squad, whose only win came against Cal State-Fullerton.
Against the 15th-ranked Sooners, Lee, Manotti, Mazzurco, and Greenberg were the only Red wrestlers to win their bouts, and the team lost the match, 21-14.
The Red rebounded, though, and beat Cal State-Fullerton, 28-15. Though the win boosted the team’s morale, the victory was a double-edged sword. In his match, Mazzurco broke his jaw in two places while taking a shot. The injury, which required surgery the next day, will likely sideline the starter for the remainder of the season. Though Mazzurco’s absence may hurt the team as it hunts for a top-10 national standing, Koll remains optimistic about his wrestler’s return to the lineup.
“It’s been pretty hard for us to replace Joe. We’ve got a freshmen in to replace Joe, but he’s just not at Joe’s level right now, but he lacks a lot of experience that Joe has,” said Koll. “He’s one of our top kids. If we’re able to get Joe back for nationals, with the kind of power we have to score points in nationals, we could be a top six or five team.”
Against its final opponent of the day, No. 21 Wisconsin, the Red fought hard but came up short. Lee, senior Justin Lijo, and Manotti each won his match, putting Cornell in the led early. But their efforts were not enough to cinch a win, and the Badgers capitalized on the Red’s weakened lineup, taking five of the final six bouts for a 21-14 team victory.
“At the Lonestar Duals, even though we wrestled well, we still went 1-2,” lamented Koll. “The biggest disappointment was that we didn’t have our 165 pounder, and with him we’d have beaten Wisconsin.”
After less than a week off, the grapplers, still weary from traveling, got back in action against Bloomsburg. Though Koll would have preferred to face the Huskies at a more opportune time to give his wrestlers a break, the team went out strong and shut out their opponents, 35-0.
“We expected to win against Bloomsburg, but we had been traveling so much, the guys looked terrible,” Koll said. “But the win also shows the kind of competition we’ve been wrestling. We went down there and shut them out, and there are times in the season when you need a couple easy wins.”
Finally, after three tough road contests, the grapplers returned home, where they faced off against Hofstra. From the outset, the matchup between New York’s top two teams looked favorable for Cornell. Early wins by freshman Keith Dickey and Manotti put the Red ahead of Hofstra, 12-3. But the Pride dominated the bottom half of the draw, taking five straight bouts in the latter stages of the match to earn an 18-15 victory.
Though the loss disappointed Koll, he knew that his team’s true test would come in the National Duals, the second toughest meet in the country after the NCAA championships. Cornell, which slipped to the 16th spot in national polls after its previous losses, proved it could still compete at the highest level.
Entered into the consolation bracket after losing 22-12 to top-ranked Oklahoma State, the Red defeated No. 22 Ohio State, 21-20. The win was decisive for Cornell, which had lost to the Buckeyes twice last season.
After beating the Buckeyes, the Red faced off against Hofstra for the second time in the past week, and each squad won five bouts, with the Pride’s major decision by Ralph Everett at 165 being the difference maker. After Everett’s win, the Red was faced with a 13-6 deficit heading into the final four matches and was able to win three of them, but came up just short in its attempt to advance in the tournament.
Lee put forth a strong showing, winning all three of his bouts on the day at 133, including a 5-2 decision over defending national champion Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State. Lee also earned an 8-5 win over Ohio State’s Jesse Lang and finished the day with a tight 6-5 victory against Hofstra’s Ricky LaForge.
Additionally, four Cornell grapplers earned two wins on the day, including Manotti, seniors Tyler Baier and Scott Roth, and junior Matt Bogumil.
After the tournament, Koll felt proud of the way his wrestlers had performed individually against stiff competition, but he also knows that they must perform better as a team to win matches as the season progresses.
“We’re not wrestling poorly as a team, but we’re not winning the matches,” he said. “But we’re also wrestling very good competition too, which will get us ready for the end of the year, and I’m excited to get started with our second semester schedule and the Ivy League matches.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson