August 25, 2006

Wrestling Adds Three New Coaches

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Garland, Wattenburg ’04 and Billman are out. Tyler Baier ’05, Cory Cooperman and Damion Hahn are in.

After two consecutive top-5 finishes at nationals and a consequent overhaul of assistant coaches, the wrestling team welcomed some familiar faces and one not-so-familiar face to its coaching staff for the program’s next step towards earning a national championship next March.

On paper, the coaching staff is easily regarded as the most accomplished in terms of accolades in the program’s history, although head coach Rob Koll attests that accomplishments weren’t the first priority when selecting the new staff.

“I don’t recruit coaches on resumes,” Koll said. “I recruit coaches based on personality, how they can interact with kids, how they can relate to kids, and how they can recruit kids. Sure, add in their resume at the end of the process and it’s easy to see that we have as good of a staff as any in the country.”

Baier comes back to East Hill after a year spent putting his applied economics and management degree to good use as he worked in marketing in the Windy City. The runner-up at nationals in the 184-pound category two years ago in St. Louis, Baier decided that although the financial security of professional life in the office was rewarding, it wasn’t as attractive as coming back to Cornell, where there is something special brewing inside the Friedman Wrestling Center.

“I was doing really well with my job in Chicago,” Baier said. “I was living the Cornell dream, working and making money. I was still helping out with [wrestling] camps up there, and after the opportunity here came about, I realized I still had a passion for wrestling.”

[img_assist|nid=17945|title=Back again|desc=Tyler Baier 05 (left), a runner-up at the national tournament in 2005, has rejoined the wrestling team as an assistant coach. (Sun File Photo)|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=82]

While Travis Lee ’05 was considered to be the face of Cornell wrestling during the 2004-05 season, Baier was considered to be the voice and the leader of a squad that finished fourth at nationals, Cornell’s highest finish in the program’s history. In his Cornell career, Baier posted a record of 100 wins and 39 losses, good enough for eighth place all-time in school history. With the success he had on the East Hill, returning to take a coaching position wasn’t a hard decision.

“I wouldn’t have gone back to coach anywhere else,” Baier said. “I love Cornell wrestling. I want to see it succeed, and I look at this as an opportunity to fulfill my own personal goals while watching these kids and this program succeed.”

Cooperman comes to Cornell after graduating from rival Lehigh this past spring. After transferring from Minnesota for the 2001-02 season, he absolutely dominated Red and EIWA competition throughout his career with the Mountain Hawks. Last season, Cooperman, who holds a degree in psychology, finished third at nationals at 141 pounds after going 28-2 on the season. Over his career, Cooperman posted 99 wins and only 12 losses.

At Cornell, he will take over arguably the most talented lightweight corps in the country as he will coach sophomores Troy Nickerson and Adam Frey, as well as junior Jordan Leen and senior Keith Dickey.

“Coaching has been in my mindset ever since high school,” Cooperman said. “It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. I’ve wrestled these guys before and I know what they can do. Hopefully I can add a little bit of what I do differently to help these guys and see them succeed.”

Despite coming from Lehigh, Cooperman seems to be right at home inside the wrestling office, wearing Ezra’s carnelian and white. Although some would think that the transition of going to a rival school would be emotionally difficult for Cooperman in such a demanding sport, the two-time All-American vows that he was set on keeping his options open after last season. When it came to coming to Cornell, it was actually an old Cornell face that put the idea of coaching inside the Friedman Wrestling Center into Cooperman’s head.

“I was talking to [ex-assistant and current head coach at Virginia] Steve [Garland] and we were basically spitballing about some of the kids here and what I was doing after I graduated,” Cooperman said. “I told him that I was open-minded and we talked a little about coming here. I think he was a little surprised about that, coming from Lehigh, and even though some people might see that as me stabbing Lehigh in the back, what Lehigh does is groom their wrestlers to become good coaches.”

Minnesota alum Damion Hahn has also come to Cornell, where he will take over the volunteer assistant coach position vacated by Jamar Billman. Hahn, who is currently ranked second in the Team USA rankings at 211 pounds, will look to better the efforts of returning All-American senior Jerry Rinaldi, who finished fourth in the country at 197 pounds last season. Hahn also looks to add a powerful punch towards recruiting efforts. He is originally from from Lakewood, N.J., which, along with Pennsylvania, has produced many talented wrestlers. Hahn was a four-time All-American and won national titles in 2003 and 2004 at 197 pounds. He was also named the Big 10 Conference’s athlete of the year in his senior season.