December 3, 2004

Grapplers Head to Vegas

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The Red wrestlers hope to prove that they are among the high rollers on the national scene when they travel to Sin City this weekend to participate in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational.

The 46-team field features a number of top-25 schools, including defending champion No. 6 Nebraska, No. 5 Michigan and No. 10 Hofstra. In addition, Ivy League schools including Brown, Columbia and perennial rival No. 18 Penn will have wresters in the tournament.

No. 12 Cornell is coming off a strong performance at the Body Bar Invitational two weeks ago, where it placed second behind Michigan. While the Red was not able to defend its title from a year ago, head coach Rob Koll was happy with his team’s overall performance. Seniors Travis Lee (133 pounds) and Tyler Baier (184), as well as junior Dustin Manotti (149) and sophomore Jerry Rinaldi (197), earned first place in their respective weight classes.

In addition, Koll said that he was even more excited about the performances of less experienced wrestlers, including sophomores Joey Hooker (157) and Jason Manross (197) and freshman Zach Hammond (HWT). Taking into account the fact that senior regulars Mike Mormile (125) and Joe Mazzurco (165) are unable to compete this semester, Koll thought that his team’s performance was impressive.

“I didn’t think we’d be that competitive with Michigan considering they’re ranked fifth in the country,” Koll said. “It shows where we can be at the end of the year when we get everybody in the lineup.”

Regarding this weekend’s competition, Koll said that because of the size of the tournament, the enormous talent in each weight class and the gaps in his own lineup, he does not expect that his team as a whole will win the invitational.

However, he is looking for solid performances from his Body Bar champions and hopes his less experienced wrestlers will gain valuable lessons from facing some of the top competition in the nation.

“It’s a huge tournament — it’s a grueling meat grinder,” Koll said. “I want to get through with as few injuries as possible and it’s going to be an opportunity for guys like Tyler Baier and Jerry Rinaldi who are flying below the view screen on a lot of people’s radars nationwide, to step up and assert themselves, to show they are national contenders.”

One wrestler who put in an impressive performance two weeks ago and was named to the traveling squad for this weekend’s tournament is junior Josh Cholish (157). Despite being unseeded at Body Bar, Cholish marched through the competition before losing in the finals, claiming second place. This weekend, Cholish said that he will take it one match at a time.

“[The invitational is] a great opportunity anyway you look at it because when you come to a school like Cornell, it’s is an Ivy League school, but you have a chance to go up against Big Ten schools and make a difference out there,” Cholish said.

Another wrestler who is looking to make an impact this weekend is Rinaldi. The sophomore, who made nationals last year and is currently ranked 14th in the nation, was pleased with earning first place at Body Bar, but was not particularly happy with his actual performance. Rinaldi said that he made at least one mistake in every match two weeks ago, but added that one positive is that he knows what he needs to work on for Las Vegas and the rest of the season.

“I want to start off fast every match, see if I could score first,” Rinaldi said in regards to his approach at the invitational. “There are a lot of top-ranked guys in my bracket, so if I could knock a couple of them off, it’d be a good thing.”

While Koll acknowledged the depth of teams in the invitational and noted that even lesser-known squads normally have at least one or two talented wresters, he expects his team to come out strong, build confidence and send a message to other top schools that his team is all-in.

“Somebody is going to be the talk of the tournament, so why don’t you let it be you?” Koll said.

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor