February 24, 2005

Grapplers Train For March Meets

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As head coach Rob Koll pops his disc into the stereo and Rod Stewart’s raspy voice echoes across the Friedman Wrestling Center Tuesday afternoon, there is a collective groan.

“We usually don’t listen to this music,” assured sophomore Jerry Rinaldi, as he walked by.

“My guys hate my music selection … [But] the stuff they listen to makes me physically ill,” Koll admits. “I had Bee Gees, they stole it. I had ABBA, they stole it. They told me they stole it and threw it away, but I personally think they have it back home and they’re burning it and making copies for their friends.”

Fortunately for those on the Cornell wrestling team, the music played during practice is only a minor issue in comparison to the collective goal of successfully preparing for the EIWA Championships in less than two weeks and Nationals in St. Louis.

Coming off its regular season-ending 28-9 win over Bloomsburg last Saturday, the Red (12-4), with its starting lineup in place, has its sights focused on the March tournaments. As a result, preparation will be catered to these competitions.

“During that amount of time, the conditioning they have right now is essentially the condition that will get them through Nationals,” Koll said. “We’re trying to make sure they’re as healthy and as fresh as possible, but by the same token, we want them to keep their edge.”

To accomplish these goals, Koll holds practices six days a week, with lighter sessions held on Wednesday and Saturday. Practices last no longer than an hour and wrestlers often come into Friedman during the morning for short, intense, sessions focusing on fitness or a particular drill.

But it would be wrong to say that these short practices are easy. In fact, they are far from it. As Rod Stewart’s, “Have I Told You Lately,” continues to drone in the background on Tuesday, the environment is relaxed — guys are sitting on the mat, joking around about random things. Koll joins the banter as he puts his whistle over his head, before walking to a digital clock and setting it to 61:00.

Suddenly, the mood has changed, as guys start to get up and snatch their headgear from the bleachers. Koll’s mood is different too, as he blows the whistle for practice to begin with Rod Stewart being replaced by a techno/hip-hop mix CD courtesy of junior John Cholish, in the background.

After they warm up by jogging and sprinting laps around the gym, the wrestlers — including assistant coaches Steve Garland, Clint Wattenberg ’03 and Jamar Billman — pair up and start doing drills almost harmoniously with Koll’s whistle. They do lifts, inside cradles, single leg pull backs, and other exercises.

With 50 minutes left, Koll blows his whistle again as the guys again jog laps, before they get back into pairs a minute later. Getting off bottom, reversals, a variety of takedowns and laps are all part of the regimen for the next 20 minutes as some of the sweat-soaked wrestlers start working more slowly; their legs getting heavier.

“Go harder, go harder!” Koll yells from the center of Friedman.

There are no breaks in this practice — “There are no breaks in a match,” Koll reminds me — and with 20 minutes to go, the guys are jogging around the complex again — the larger guys take fewer big steps while the smaller guys take faster, but smaller steps.

Sixteen and a half minutes left, and the guys are doing more takedown drills. Beforehand, Koll said that the team will work on familiar techniques — thus, monotonous exercises and live drilling are the standard.

“We don’t want to cloud their minds with anything new so their reaction [to opponents] becomes almost instinctual,” he said.

With 15 minutes left, the team does short intervals of live drilling and jogging in place. As Eminem’s Just Lose It blasts on the stereo with 12 minutes left, the guys line up on one side of the gym.

Time for sprints and the notorious “Koll crawls.” In these exercises, guys use their hands and feet — similar to what a cheetah might look like when running — and they race across the mat. During this whole time, Koll is the conductor of this symphony, and his whistle and encouraging words are his baton.

Even without breaks, some, like veterans Travis Lee, Mike Mormile, Tyler Baier and Dustin Manotti, seem to still be going strong into the last minutes. As the buzzer goes off, most guys collapse in exhaustion while Manotti dutifully finishes his last Koll crawl before falling to the mat himself.

“There are reasons why they are starters,” Koll says about his veterans, who he cites for not only having stronger conditioning, but also stronger wills.

One by one, wrestlers peel themselves off the mat as Garland, Wattenberg and Billman give slap-fives and compliments for another practice well done.

But, Koll’s favorite part of the experience is after practice — the ice bath. Wrestlers slide into — willingly or unwillingly — a metal tub of ice-cold water. Watching a couple of guys get in, senior Matt Bogumil says that in the first two minutes, the water burns and takes the wind out of you — especially when the jets are on to circulate the fluid. But the next day, Bogumil says you feel great.

Outside the training room, Mormile, with ice packs strapped to his knee and elbow, said that these well-planned, intense practices help the team prepare physically and mentally for the big tournaments.

“This is what we need to be successful,” he says.

As one ice bath victim, who will remain unnamed, screams, “It burns!” Lee joins Mormile and remarks that the team camaraderie and the wrestlers’ close relationship and respect for their coaches are extremely beneficial — characteristics which are rare in college wrestling. If only they could agree on music selection.

“It’s horrible,” Mormile said of Koll’s music tastes.

“I’m pretty down with it, I’m pretty cool. I like to tell myself that at least,” Koll said.

As a digital clock above the locker room door ticks down 22 days, 17 hours and eight minutes until St. Louis at the end of practice, one thing’s for sure: the tune of a top-five finish, several All-Americans and the possible crowning of Cornell national champions, will be a song that everyone will surely enjoy listening to.

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor