March 17, 2006

Wrestlers Take Fifth at Nationals

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – On wrestling’s biggest stage on wrestling’s biggest day, the Red secured its second consecutive top-5 finish, establishing itself as one of the premier wrestling programs in the country. After four Red wrestlers earned All-America honors on Day 2 of competition, freshman Troy Nickerson, senior Dustin Manotti, junior Jerry Rinaldi and senior Joe Mazzurco finished second, third, fourth, and sixth in their respective weight classes.

Nickerson, who posted an amazing record of 32-1 in the regular season, was introduced to 16,394 fans inside the Ford Center and millions more as his championship bout with defending champion Joe Dubuque of Indiana was televised live on ESPN. With the crowd on his side hoping for an upset, inexperienced played a factor as Dubuque pulled off the victory, earning his second national title at 125 pounds.

After a minute and 30 seconds of feeling each other out, Dubuque went on the offensive, scoring a takedown. Nickerson quickly made his escape and went into the second period trailing by one point. With Dubuque choosing to start down, the Indiana fifth-year senior scored an escape and added a takedown with seven seconds left to widen his lead to 5-1 with one period of wrestling remaining. Nickerson scored a point for escaping after starting the last period in the down position but Dubuque scored another takedown to make the score 7-3. Nickerson added a late escape but couldn’t find the energy to muster a late offensive charge, falling by a final score of 8-3 after Dubuque racked up 2:03 in riding time.

Despite the loss, Nickerson proved to the nation that he was for real. Even Dubuque had praise for the first-ever five-time New York State champion.

“He’s going to be a great one,” Dubuque said. “I think he was a little tense and nervous. I expect him to be in the finals four times before the end of his career.”

Manotti wrestled in the morning session and cemented his place among Cornell’s all-time greatest after finishing third in the 157-pound bracket. After losing his first match of the tournament to Oregon State’s Tony Hook, Manotti tore through the consolation bracket, destroying everyone in his path. Manotti went on to win third place by defeating the tournament’s No. 9, 8, 4, 3 and 1 seeds.

He advanced to the third-place match by defeating No. 9 Joe Johnston of Iowa. After no scoring in the first period, Manotti scored takedowns in the second and third periods en route to a 6-0 victory. Cornell’s second-ever four-time All-American then faced the tournament’s top seed, Iowa State’s Trent Paulson, defeating him 8-2. He recorded takedowns in every period, including two impressive double-leg takedowns in the first and second. Manotti was announced over the loud speaker for his outstanding accomplishment of wrestling back through the consolation bracket, earning a standing ovation from the Oklahoma City crowd.

Rinaldi finished fourth in the nation after beating Oklahoma’s Joel Flaggert, 5-4, and falling to Nebraska’s B.J. Padden, 5-3, in the third-place match. Rinaldi recorded a three-point near fall in the second period to defeat Flaggert. Padden racked up 2:55 seconds of riding time against Rinaldi while recording two takedowns in the victory. Rinaldi will return next year in hopes of a national title in his final season in a Red singlet.

Mazzurco lost twice in his final day of competition, earning sixth place after falling to Illinois’ Peter Friedl, 7-5, and Arizona State’s C.B. Dollaway, 6-1. Mazzurco and Friedl wrestled even through two periods. Tied at four entering the third, Friedl scored a takedown with 1:17 left to secure the victory. He was awarded an extra point for posting a riding time advantage of 1:22. Mazzurco then faced Dollaway, surrendering a takedown with 50 seconds left in the second period. Dollaway escaped to start the third and added another takedown as Mazzurco tried to shoot repeatedly as Dollaway had locked up riding time in the bout. Mazzurco ends his career for the Red as a two-time All-American.

Cornell finished fifth behind Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Iowa. The only Ivy Leaguer to win an individual title was Matt Valenti of Penn in the 133-pound bracket.

In the end, 330 wrestlers entered the tournament and Cornell wrestlers took home four of the 80 All-American spots.

The Red will look to add another top-5 finish next year at the 77th NCAA wrestling national championships at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls
Sun Assistant Sports Editor