The wrestling team takes to the road in its first national tournament-style meet of the year today as it participates in the 25th annual Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev. The tournament, which will take place inside the Star of the Desert Arena, plays host to teams from over 50 schools and pits Cornell against some of the top competition in the country.
Last season the Red finished second (116 points) to rival Michigan, which took the title with 145 team points. Current sophomore Troy Nickerson won an individual title at 125 pounds, while senior Jerry Rinaldi finished second to the Buffalo’s Kyle Cerminala, who graduated last season.
[img_assist|nid=20381|title=Hook, line and sinker|desc=Senior Joey Hooker (left) and the wrestling team will look to prove themselves this weekend at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev. (Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor)|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=100]
Although Rinaldi returns to Las Vegas as the top seed in the 197-pound weight class, the Red will wrestle without Nickerson, who is out of action with a sore back, as well as junior Steve Anceravage at 165 pounds (academic commitments) and at 184 pounds where sophmore Josh Arnone is out due to sickness. Senior Luke Hogle is also sidelined because of a shoulder injury. Although the Red only plans on sending a handful of its regular starters, head coach Rob Koll still expects the Red to perform.
“We do have some guys out of the lineup,” Koll said. “But we expect the guys that we are taking to do well. It’s a great opportunity for the guys who aren’t regular starters to go to one of the toughest tournaments in the nation and see how they stack up.”
Although the team has had its moments early in the season in its home invitational meet, the Body Bar, as well as in individual matches against Ohio State, the team will finally see how it performs away from the friendly confines of the Friedman Wrestling Center.
The tournament should be a test for a number of wrestlers such as junior Jordan Leen (149 pounds), senior Joey Hooker (174) and junior Zach Hammond (heavyweight) who have impressed at moments early in the season. Leen is currently ranked No. 5 in country while Hooker defeated No. 12 Blake Maurer of Ohio State last Sunday. Hammond was rewarded with a top-20 ranking after winning the Body Bar two weekends ago.
“It’s exciting that it’s going to be like nationals in a way,” Hammond said. “There is going to be some tough competition and all of us expect to go a long way so we know we have to wrestle well not once, but many times in a row.”
Also making the trip to Las Vegas is sophomore Drake Hovis at 157 pounds. In a weight class that is stacked with talent, Hovis seems to have found an edge and stayed with Ohio State’s Jason Johnstone until late in the match last Sunday, eventually losing 8-2.
“[Hovis] wrestles hard for seven minutes and that’s what we love about him,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier. “He still has to become a smarter wrestler and learn how to scramble. But then again, you can tell he’s one of the most athletic guys on the team. He’s just naturally talented and has explosive strength.”
The tournament, which starts this morning with pigtails at 9:00 a.m., will run until tomorrow night when the finals take place at 5:00 p.m. Although the Red expects to perform well, the team remains consistent with the thought process that each and every match is just preparation for the national tournament, which at the moment, still seems very far away according to the clock that counts down the days until the national tournament which will take place on March 15 at the Palace in Detroit, Mich.
“We’re not concerned with our ranking and where we finish this Saturday,” Baier said. “We care about winning obviously, but that’s not going to deter us from reaching our goal, which is performing at nationals. If you look at our countdown clock, there’s still over 105 days left till then.”