March 4, 2005

Wrestling Readies for Eastern Champs

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As a red digital clock above the wrestling team’s locker room counts down to the NCAA tournament, No. 13 Cornell (12-4) will take a crucial step forward this weekend when it travels to Annapolis, Md. to partake in the EIWA championships.

The EIWAs — a tournament consisting of 13 teams — serve as the qualifying tournament for Nationals, as the top three finishers in each weight class and 12 other wild card wrestlers will have their opportunity to punch their ticket to St. Louis in two weeks.

“We’re definitely ready to go,” said No. 9 senior Joe Mazzurco (174 pounds). “We got tortured [in practice] last week so we’re pretty much in the best physical shape possible right now. I think we’re all peaking at about the right time.”

There are six wrestlers — including three-time EIWA champ senior No. 2 Travis Lee (133) — who have been to the EIWAs before, but four are making their first trip. While veterans like senior No. 8 Tyler Baier (184) emphasize that the team cannot get caught up in distractions, head coach Rob Koll expects his less seasoned guys to be ready.

“People make too much about the kids being freshmen or sophomores in this sport,” Koll said. “These kids have wrestled at least 10, some as many as 15, 17 years … These are wily veterans even though their class in college might not indicate that.”

The Red’s largest challenge this year will come from No. 5 Lehigh. Although Cornell is currently rated as the top-seed in the EIWAs, Lehigh — which has won the EIWAs for the past three years — defeated the Red in January, 20-12. Led by No. 1 Troy Letters (165), Lehigh’s lineup is stacked with nationally ranked wrestlers.

However, Koll is not worried, noting the depth of his Cornell squad. The Red has wrestlers who are seeded within the top six of the pre-tournament EIWA rankings in nine out of ten weight classes, including six in the top three. In addition, while the team has not won the EIWAs since 1993, Koll’s ultimate goal is to have wrestlers qualify for St. Louis.

“I would rather send 10 guys to nationals and lose Easterns then send eight or nine guys to nationals and win Easterns,” Koll said. “To me, it’s something that whenever we compete, we want to win regardless of the tournament. But it’s not the end of the world. Obviously, our goal is ultimately to have national champions, All-Americans, and place as high as we could possibly place at nationals.”

Cornell hopes to send a representative to nationals from each weight class. Last year, the Red sent eight wrestlers. However, expectations are running so high at Friedman that sophomore No. 9 Jerry Rinaldi (197) said that the team is, “confident to the point that we’re expecting it.”

Although the Red is also stacked with a number of nationally ranked wrestlers, it will be the newcomers — freshman Jordan Leen (141), sophomore Joey Hooker (165), junior John Cholish (157) and senior Tyler Shovlin (HWT) — who will be instrumental in the team’s results this weekend.

“We got to count on everybody and if we’re going to win this tournament, it’s going to be those guys who win it for us,” Baier said.

While qualifying for and possibly competing at the national tournament is the culmination of a most wrestlers’ careers, Shovlin in particular took a difficult road to get to the EIWAs.

Coming to Cornell as a 174-pounder and having undergone knee surgeries, Shovlin faced a variety of injury setbacks and was a reserve for most of his career. This season, he moved into the starting heavyweight spot.

Shovlin then won his spot by defeating close friend and senior teammate, Matt Bogumil, for the starting position. Shovlin, who said that Bogumil has been a “tremendous help” in many aspects and even wrote him a scouting sheet for potential opponents, is eager to go to Annapolis.

“I’m really excited just to go down there, finish out my senior season in the right way and just go out there and do my best,” Shovlin said. “We’ve been training for now, for all of our lives for this sport.”

Tournament notes:

Lee and Matt Greenberg ’04 captured EIWA titles last year … Cornell placed third behind Lehigh and Penn at the EIWAs last year … The Red won eight consecutive dual meets to end the regular season … Cornell has sent eight wrestlers to Nationals for two years in a row.

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor