Two weekends ago, on Saturday March 18, senior wrestler Dustin Manotti let something go that seemed a little out of character. As the third period ran out in Manotti’s last match as a member of the Cornell wrestling team, Manotti slipped the world a smile. And unlike he might have thought, wrestling in the shadow of legends such as Travis Lee ’05 and legends in the making like freshman Troy Nickerson, the world actually took notice.
After Manotti stripped off his red ankle bands after finishing third in the 157-pound bracket of the national tournament in Oklahoma City, Okla., he quietly saluted the small gathering of Cornell faithful congregated in the far northeast corner of the Ford Center. After his hand was raised by the referee, Manotti then pointed to the sky and with smile on face, walked solemnly towards the locker room.
What happened next might have made the best moment of the 76th annual national wrestling championships.
Manotti, a four-time All-American, was greeted with a standing ovation from the 16,000-plus inside the arena that was filled with Oklahomans, travelers from Minnesota, and wrestling enthusiasts, many of whom probably only know of Cornell University in part thanks to Manotti’s efforts over his career – a career that has landed the Mifflinburg, Pa., native among Cornell’s all-time greatest.
“I was extremely happy,” Manotti said. “I kind of heard the announcer say all the names of the guys I had beaten and I recognized it and put my hands up. I appreciate it.”
The standing ovation came at the end of a career that saw Manotti win an Ivy League Rookie of the Year award in 2003, All-Ivy Second Team Honors three times, All-Ivy First Team once and finish second in Cornell wrestling history with 135 total wins. It has been a career that has seen him win quietly, with no EIWA championship or national title on his resume. That is why it wasn’t surprising that Manotti, during his third-place finish ceremony where he was awarded his trophy, was rudely overshadowed on the podium by the local favorite, Oklahoma State’s Johny Hendricks, who had just beaten Michigan’s Ryan Churella just before the handing out of Manotti’s medal.
If the crowd didn’t give Manotti his well-deserved standing ovation because of his outstanding career, then it only makes sense that they all rose to their feet because of his accomplishments at the 2006 national championships that InterMat wrestle’s Jason Bryant called so “remarkable,” it might have been considered at first to be impossible.
After being knocked out by Harvard’s Andrew Flanagan in the EIWA championship match when a wild elbow struck him in the head after Flanagan attempted to escape from a double-leg takedown, Manotti seemed sluggish at the start in Oklahoma City as he was eventually upset in the first round of the national tournament by Oregon State’s Tony Hook.
It looked as if Manotti’s fate would be sealed early in the tournament after six of the tournament’s top-12 seeded wrestlers were also upset on Day 1 of competition. Former All-Americans such as West Virginia’s Matt Lebe, Wisconsin’s Craig Henning, and Iowa’s Joe Johnston all stood in Manotti’s way to making it back through the consolation bracket. It could have been real easy for the communication major to fold.
With his fourth All-America honor in jeopardy and hanging by a string, all Manotti did was blaze a torrid path of destruction, defeating the tournament’s No. 9,8, 3 and 4 seeds before easily disposing of the No. 1 seed, Iowa State’s Trent Paulson, to earn third place, his highest finish ever at wrestling’s big dance.
“It was really touching,” said head coach Rob Koll. “I don’t think anybody has ever done what he did. A lot of people think that he doesn’t really care about winning with the way he carries himself, because he doesn’t show much emotion, but I think he showed everyone what he is made of. He showed everyone that he cares about wrestling and about winning when he won his fourth All-America honor. It’s great they finally recognized his accomplishments.”
And recognize his accomplishments they did. From fans in the oxygen seats to famous media personnel on media row, everyone finally recognized the accomplished Dustin Manotti.
Jeff Harrison of the wrestling recap might have put it best.
“It’s nice to finally see Manotti get some attention,” he said.
Tim Kuhls is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Tuesday this semester.
Archived article by Tim Kuhls