OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – On wrestling’s biggest stage on wrestling’s biggest day, the Red secured its second consecutive top-5 finish at the NCAA national tournament, establishing itself as one of the premier wrestling programs in the country. After four Cornell 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.
“We are obviously pleased,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We talked about getting top-5 and we pulled through. When you look back on it we finished ahead of some national superpowers, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. It was gratifying.”
Nickerson, who posted a near flawless 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 against defending champion Joe Dubuque of Indiana was televised live on ESPN. Although the crowd was cheering for an upset, inexperience played a factor as Dubuque pulled off the victory, earning his second national title at 125 pounds.
“Second isn’t always what you shoot for,” Nickerson said. “Then again, this tournament gives me a little more motivation and gets me a little more experienced for next year. It’s all about having your best day. It’s a change wrestling in front of 20,000 people and being on ESPN. Next year the advantage will be in my favor.”
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 a contender. Even Dubuque had praise for the first-ever Ivy League rookie of the year and wrestler of the year in the same season.
“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. Manotti 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.
“Whenever you lose two All-Americans [Manotti and Mazzurco], they’re always going to be hard to replace,” Koll said. “Manotti is a four-time All-American and Mazzurco only had two losses on the entire year going into the tournament. All they’ve done their whole careers is perform.”
Besides the four All-Americans who competed on the tournament’s final day, four other Red wrestlers made the trip to Oklahoma City. Sophomore Steve Anceravage was the only Cornell wrestler to be eliminated on Day 1 of competition, while senior Mike Mormile, senior Dan Miracola and junior Keith Dickey all lasted until Day 2.
Cornell finished fifth in the team standings 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 were entered in the tournament and Cornell wrestlers took home four of the 80 All-America 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.
Full Recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 of the NCAA 2006 wrestling championships can be found in the March 17 issue of The Sun at www.cornellsun.com.
Archived article by Tim Kuhls
Sun Assistant Sports Editor