Coming off a disappointing showing at the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals two weeks ago — a performance which concluded in a tough 25-11 loss to No. 15 Penn State — head coach Rob Koll and the No. 17 Red needed to make a strong statement last weekend. Particularly with perennial Ivy rival No. 25 Penn coming to town.
“If [my team] can’t get fired up for this, they can’t get fired up about anything,” Koll said last week.
The pumped-up team made a resounding statement at the Friedman Wrestling Center. The team put on a show in front of packed crowds of alumni and fans, first demolishing Princeton, 42-0, before going on to take the first nine weight classes en route to a commanding 30-3 win over the Quakers. Co-captain No. 7 Tyler Baier (184-pounds) labeled the victory as, “a big moment for Cornell wrestling.”
“It was a huge win because we just came off a rough weekend,” sophomore No. 12 Jerry Rinaldi (197) said. “We didn’t perform up to our expectations so we kind of exceeded everyone’s expectations [last] weekend. It’s just nice to see everything clicked.”
The Red (6-4-0, 2-0 Ivy) hopes to build on its momentum tomorrow, when it travels to Hempstead to face No. 11 Hofstra (9-3-0, 3-0 CAA) in the early afternoon, before it heads into New York City at night to battle league foe Columbia.
Hofstra will almost certainly provide the most substantial challenge to the Red tomorrow, as it boasts six wrestlers who are nationally ranked within the top-20 in the USA Today/NWCA Division I wrestling poll. Along with Pride senior No. 2 Chris Skretkowicz (197), who is currently 19-1 this season, are No. 8 Jon Masa (149), No. 7 Ricky LaForge (141) and No. 11 Paul Siemon (174).
The Pride has also won a number of dual meets against top opponents such as No. 4 Lehigh, which it beat, 23-10, on Nov. 28. Cornell lost to the Mountain Hawks, 20-12, almost three weeks ago. On the other hand, while the Red dominated Penn last weekend, Hofstra won a close, 23-18, match against the Quakers last month.
“I think we match-up well [against Hofstra],” Baier said. “There’s going to be a lot of close matches and we have got to come out on top of those. That’s going to determine this dual meet. We just got to wrestle tough like last weekend and keep on improving.”
In the evening, the Red will face Columbia (4-2, 1-1 Ivy), hoping to further cement the team’s push for a league title. Columbia has posted a number of strong victories this season over then-nationally ranked Rider and Eastern Michigan, while falling last weekend in a tight, 21-13 loss to Penn.
Koll expects that his team should dispose of the Lions — last year’s encounter between the two sides ended 31-6 in favor of the Red. However, he cautions that his team must not pick up injuries coming off its afternoon match against Hofstra.
“If we are healthy [and] are 100 percent, [when] we go down to Columbia, we should be able to handle them,” Koll said.
Baier attributes the Red’s recent success to the fact that the whole team has been wrestling well and chipping in with wins. An example of this could be found in sophomore Joey Hooker (165), who has won his last five matches. Hooker will have a challenging weekend ahead, when he will probably face Hofstra No. 14 Mike Patrovich before taking on former No. 19 Matt Palmer at Columbia.
Similar to his previous wins, Hooker said he’s going to, “wrestle with my strategy, go after them hard, and hopefully just pick them apart.”
Especially in regards to the Hofstra match, Koll said that the team needs to win close matches and his stars, including No. 2 Travis Lee (133) and No. 1 Dustin Manotti (149), will hopefully lead the way. The Pride won both encounters last season — first in a dual meet at Friedman, where Hofstra pulled out an 18-15 victory, and a week later at the National Duals, where the Hempstead team eked out a 16-15 win.
While recent history may not on its side, the Red is coming off of one of the largest victories in program memory. And one thing’s for sure — the team is not lacking self-belief.
“Last weekend helps us confidence-wise and I think everything is coming together and it’s the right time for that to happen,” Baier said. “We just got to wrestle tough like last weekend and keep on improving. I really think we’re going to take care of Hofstra pretty easily.”
Archived article by BRIAN TSAOBy BRIAN TSAOby Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor