When head coach Rob Koll was looking into a potential recruit from Lodi, N.J. named Jerry Rinaldi, he made a call to the kid’s head coach. Instead of speaking with the coach, though, Koll talked to Rinaldi’s guidance counselor — who could not stop saying positive things about him.
Little did Koll know that this wrestler from a town of approximately 25,000 people, was a Lodi living legend. In high school, after Rinaldi won the state tournament, there wasn’t just a pizza dinner or small, family get-together. Instead, Lodi had a parade, in which the humble and slightly embarrassed wrestler prayed for rain so that he did not have to ride the fire truck arranged for him in his honor. When Koll and his staff visited the wrestler’s household, they went through the entire scrapbook and were presented all of Jerry’s trophies. Trophies which were hauled down by his grandmother.
“The two great things that [have] come out of Lodi are the Sopranos and Jerry Rinaldi,” Koll said.
After a stellar freshman campaign, many expect Rinaldi to be one of the great things to come out of Cornell wrestling this year. Rinaldi, who became so dominant during his high school days that he faced the other team’s best wrestler — regardless of weight class — is primed to improve on a season in which he reached nationals, but fell short of being named an All-American.
“Right away last year, he improved so quickly compared to the other freshmen, that I knew he was going to come out on the national scene and he really did,” said senior co-captain Tyler Baier. “A lot of guys hit a wall and they stop getting better. He’s one of those guys who keeps on working on his weaknesses. I see big things for that kid.”
Rinaldi said that the beginning of his first year was rough, because he was not comfortable with his style and he had to adjust to the heavy demands of Division I wrestling. However, as Rinaldi wrestled more top opponents, and started to gain confidence, his performances improved. He finished in third place at the EIWA, earned a NCAA birth and garnered a 26-11 record.
After competing in the 184-pound weight class last year, he is moving up to 197 this season. Although the adjustment might be difficult for some, Koll said that the sophomore, who is nicknamed “rope” for his ability to wrap his body around opportunities, has tremendous athleticism which will enable him to adjust to the new weight class. Rinaldi, who said he has “never really been stronger than anyone [he’s] wrestled against anyway,” added that he will use his strong mat sense to foil the competition.
“Out-muscling is not going to cut it [in college wrestling],” said senior co-captain Travis Lee. “I think [Jerry’s] done a lot better with his technique and adapting his style to college wrestling, and that’s the biggest adjustment that high school kids have to go through.”
One thing’s for sure, Rinaldi, who was ranked 18th in national preseason polls for his weight class, will have plenty of support not only from coaches and friends at Cornell, but also from home. Koll said that when the team faced off against Penn on the road last year, if there were 1,000 people in the stands, 500 were Quaker fans, 100 were Red fans and 400 were Rinaldi supporters.
“It’s nice to see a kid who, when he has that kind of support [and] has the people tell him how great you are, [that] it doesn’t get to his head,” Koll said.
Rinaldi said that the support gives him an extra boost and is an important aspect of his success. But while he is away from Lodi, Rinaldi has been adopted and supported by a new family — the Cornell Wrestling program.
“People in my town are an extension of my family because everyone knows everyone. It’s kind of what it is here. I don’t feel so far away from home because I have so much support here,” Rinaldi said. “Everyone’s work ethic is tremendous so if everyone keeps working, keeps progressing, I don’t see why we can’t be a top five team.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor