Junior co-captain Dustin Manotti is a two time All-American and arguably the Red’s best wrestler. But this season, he’s taken his game to a higher level.
“By far, this is the best I’ve seen him wrestle,” said senior co-captain Tyler Baier. “He’s always had this amazing ability and freak style, but he’s picked up things and improved immensely. Everyone can say he’s a national champion-caliber wrestler.”
This season, Manotti has compiled an impressive record. He currently has a 31-1 record and is ranked first in the nation in 149-pound weight class. He is 19-0 in tournaments and his only loss of the season came to Oklahoma’s Matt Storniolo in the Lone Star Duals.
“In my prior two seasons, I wasn’t in a slump at this time in the season but I wasn’t wrestling as well I could have,” Manotti said. “I didn’t feel as motivated as I should have, but this year, I’ve matured and I wrestle every match as tough as I can.”
At Cornell, success and wrestling have been synonymous for Manotti. After an inauspicious high school career, Manotti burst onto the collegiate stage as a freshman. He compiled a 29-9 record and placed eighth at the NCAA championships — only the second freshman in Red history to earn All-American honors. He went undefeated in regular season tournaments that year, earning a spot on the All-Ivy second team and becoming the second Red grappler in as many years to capture the Ivy Rookie of the Year award.
Last year, Manotti shrugged off any possibility of a sophomore slump, and had a terrific season. He had a 34-6 record and took fourth place at the 2004 NCAA championships — the Red’s highest finish in the tournament that year. He joined teammate and fellow captain senior Travis Lee as the only Cornell wrestlers to ever earn All-American honors in each of their first two seasons.
Manotti’s mission this season is clear — win a NCAA Championship. However, before he can taste victory, Manotti will likely have to deal with second-ranked Zach Esposito. Esposito beat Manotti in the 2004 NCAA Championships and in the Marines All-Star Classic earlier this season. Manotti exacted revenge in January, defeating Esposito at the National Duals. The victory over Esposito taught Manotti an important lesson.
“It made me realize that if I stuck with my game plan and strategy in a match, I could go out and not worry what the other guy was doing,” Manotti said. “I can focus on what I want to do and take control of the match.”
To help in Manotti’s quest, head coach Rob Koll has brought in Jamarr Billman, a former All-American at Penn State and Lockhaven, as a special assistant coach.
“He’s been a great influence on Dustin,” Koll said. “We needed a guy who could beat Dustin [and] not just train with him, and Jamarr fits the bill. Jamarr really gets under his skin. The intensity level is so much higher when Dustin wrestles Jamarr.”
Throughout his career, Manotti has produced some remarkable results, but his value to the team transcends personal achievement.
“Dustin is show,” Baier said. “He leads by example. He busts his butt in practice and in matches, and that motivates us. As captains, we don’t have any conflicts. He has a similar interest in working hard and similar goals for what we want our team to do.”
This weekend, Lee will likely surpass the Red’s all-time career wins record, but he may hold the title briefly — Manotti is on pace and could pass Lee sometime next season.
“I don’t think Travis cares to the point where it means more than a national championship,” Manotti said. “If he gets [the school record] great. If I get it, great. We’re not going to happy unless we win national championships.”
Archived article by James Rich
Sun Staff Writer