February 17, 2006

Grapplers Close On League Title

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The wrestling team (8-4, 3-0 Ivy) looks to clinch its fourth consecutive Ivy League title tonight as it hosts Harvard (4-7-1, 1-1-1) at the Friedman Wrestling Center. The squad is also set to compete against Brown (6-6-1, 1-1-1) tomorrow afternoon. A win versus either opponent would signal the first time the wrestling team has won the Ivy League title four times in a row since the 1992-93 season – when the team won its seventh consecutive Ivy title under head coach Jack Spates.

Despite practicing every day underneath a clock counting down the seconds to the NCAA national tournament, another Ivy League title would be a welcomed reward for both head coach Rob Koll and the squad. The Red, heavily favored, remains focused on the task at hand.

“At Cornell, in every sport, the first and foremost goal of every coach is to win an Ivy title,” Koll said. “Harvard and Brown shouldn’t beat us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lose to them.”

The weekend’s matches kick off the final stretch run towards the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championship tournament and the sport’s big dance, the NCAA national tournament in Oklahoma City, Okla.

With that in mind, the Red knows that a slip up against the Crimson or the Bears could hurt its seeding, and consequently, its chances of advancing at the upcoming EIWA tournament two weeks from today in Bethlehem, Penn.

“We don’t want to take these guys lightly, but we’re more importantly preparing for Easterns,” Koll said. “We don’t want to have any upsets. We don’t want to blow our seasons, individually, before going into EIW’s.”

The weekend should be an emotional one for the eight seniors on the team who will wrestle their last matches inside the Friedman Wrestling Center. The senior class, highlighted by senior tri-captains Mike Mormile, Dustin Manotti and Joe Mazzurco, has paved the way for the Red, currently ranked No. 14 in the country by intermatwrestle.com.

The team will honor the senior class during a break in the action Saturday afternoon.

“We have eight seniors, which is really quite amazing considering that all of them have made it and none of them have ever quit,” Koll said. “The reason why we’ve been so successful over the years is because of guys like [seniors] John Cholish, Jim March, and Mike Reish. Cholish used to be a starter last season and Reish stepped in for us against Northern Iowa. It’s so hard for those guys who put with a lot of physical discomfort and get less recognition. They’re the ones who really make our team successful with what they do in practice. They don’t get a lot of attention, which they deserve, so it will be nice to honor them this weekend.”

Asked if he was emotional about watching arguably the finest senior class in the program’s history compete in its last match inside Cornell’s state-of-the-art wrestling facility, Koll responded, “I’m not sentimental. The guys are great. They’re all grown up. They all have jobs. Sorry, I can’t shed a tear for them.”

Emotion or not, the team will face a Harvard squad highlighted by No. 8 Bode Ogunwole. The junior heavyweight, who won a bronze medal for the U.S.A. in last summer’s FILA World Junior Championships, should prove to be a tough test for sophomore Zach Hammond or senior Matt Pollock.

“He’s 5-9 and about 280 pounds,” Koll said. “He’s incredibly powerful, incredibly fast and had good technique. He’s a block that you just can’t move and he’s an athlete who happens to be a heavyweight. You don’t see too many athletic heavyweights. He doesn’t do a lot, but what he does do, he does very well. However, that doesn’t mean he is unbeatable.”

The decision as to who will wrestle Ogunwole is unclear as Zach Hammond gives up size but is quicker than Ogunwole, while Matt Pollock is coming off both a pin and a technical victory last weekend.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls
Sun Staff Writer