Joe Mazzurco ended his first wrestling match pinned flat on his back. The loss shamed him into giving up on the sport for the next three years. But, under the influence of his two older brothers — both wrestlers — Mazzurco jumped back into the ring, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Entering this season as the top 165-pound wrestler on the Red’s lineup, the grappler hoped that over a decade of drilling, lifting, and competing would finally pay off with a trip to the NCAA tournament this March. But in January, those dreams got cut short when he suffered a freak injury during a bout. Sidelined since, the grappler now looks to make the most out of his rehabilitation and make a triumphant return to the team by season’s end.
“Joe’s a great guy to have on the team because of his leadership and because of what he’s been capable of during the season,” said senior teammate Tyler Baier. “With him in our lineup, I know we can vie for the EIWA championship. We also want to see him back because it’d be disappointing not to have him. We know all he’s put into the season.”
The year began well for Mazzurco, who shot his record to 17-5 with a second-place finish at the Body Bar invitational, and a fourth-place medal at the Midlands Invitational. More importantly, Mazzurco felt that this was his year to break through.
“I’d built up such great momentum after taking fourth at Midlands. I’d wrestled my first matches really well,” he said. “Everything was just starting to click with my rhythm and momentum. Then everything just came to a screeching halt.”
The accident happened during a January 3rd match against Cal-State Fullerton’s Craig Wilkerson, when Mazzurco took a shot for Wilkerson’s legs but caught his hip instead.
“I shot, and my face got pretty much right into his hip. It stunned me for a second, and then I kept wrestling,” recounted Mazzurco. “Then my mouth started to fill up with blood, and I knew something’s wrong. I told Chris, our trainer, that I thought I’d lost a tooth. He said ‘all your teeth are there.’ So they took me to the hospital for x-rays and that’s where I found out it was broken in two spots.”
The injury forced Mazzurco out of the match into the emergency room, where doctors told him he had two options.
“The basic thing the doctors told me was that it would take six to eight weeks to heal, so if I wanted to come back, I had to have surgery soon,” said Mazzurco. “I decided to do it there, and luckily the place I had it done was Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. If you had to do it anywhere, that’s the place to do it.”
In the weeks that followed, the team felt Mazzurco’s absence on the mat and wondered if it would see him return for the end of the season. The Red went 2-5 in the next seven matches after losing its starter and only recently has the team regained its championship form with key wins over Ivy opponents No. 16 Penn and Princeton.
“It’s been pretty hard for us to replace Joe. We’ve got a freshman, David Post, in to replace him, but he’s just not at Joe’s level right now. He lacks a lot of experience that Joe has,” lamented head coach Rob Koll. “With Joe we’d have beaten Wisconsin and even won two matches to Hofstra because Joe had beaten their kid earlier in the year. Assuming we win that match, we get those three duals.”
But wins and losses aside, the team missed Mazzurco’s presence off the mat more than anything. As a hard worker, talented wrestler, and good friend, Mazzurco provided leadership and inspiration to many of his teammates.
“Joe is a great team leader, and he’s one of those guys who works hard day in and day out. He’s probably one of the most improved wrestlers on the team this year,” said Baier. “He was wrestling great up until his injury, which was really heartbreaking not only for him but for the team, because we had a lot of dual meets right after his injury, and he really was a big void to fill.”
But now that the throbbing in his mandible has subsided and Mazzurco has grown accustomed to drinking his meals, the grappler is back in action and doing all he can to train for a comeback.
“I can pretty much do everything except wrestle right now. As long as I work as hard as possible to stay in as good of shape as possible, I’m pretty confident I can come back and be fine,” explained Mazzurco. “The hardest thing is eating, because I enjoy food more than anybody. Basically, I just have to eat as much as possible of what I can, like small pasta, mashed potatoes, cereal, oatmeal, anything just to keep my weight up.”
“He’s been staying on the weights hard, he’s been running on the treadmill, and hitting the bike,” added Baier. “When he comes back, it’ll take a little time for him to adjust, but he’ll come back quickly.”
But not too quickly. Following doctor’s orders, Mazzurco won’t test the shearing strength of his jaw by wrestling live just yet. But, if all goes well, he will return to the Red’s lineup in about three weeks — just in time to prepare for the EIWA championships.
When he steps back on the mat, the grappler’s first priority will be to win his own matches. Beyond that, though, he hopes that he can contribute wins down the road to help carry Cornell through the national tournament.
“I’d like to hope that my return will be valuable to the team. I’m gonna come back and do my best to achieve my individual goals and, hopefully, that will help the team win the EIWA title,” concluded Mazzurco. “And then going into nationals, we want to have a top five finish. If we can put it all together at the end of the year and bring our best effort forward, we can be a top five team.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson