February 2, 2007

Wrestling Faces Familiar Opponents on Road

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When junior Zach Hammond takes to the mat tomorrow afternoon inside the New York Athletic club in New York City, he might feel a sense of déjà vu. Instead of taking on an unfamiliar rival in a highly pivotal match, he will be staring down a more than familiar face — current Hofstra heavyweight and former Cornell football and wrestling star Matt Pollock. In a match that will pit the Pride (17-2-2, 6-0 CAA), one of the nation’s best dual squads, against Cornell (2-5, 0-1 EIWA), one of the nation’s best tournament teams, the meet could come down to a tangle not between bitter enemies, but instead between the best of friends — two former workout partners who still have such a respect for one another that they keep in touch.

“We both want to win badly,” Hammond said. “It should be an interesting match. There won’t be any surprises, that’s for sure. We call each other every now and then, along with seeing each other at tournaments. He sent me a text message the other day talking trash. It’s all in good fun.”
[img_assist|nid=21087|title=Leening Tower of Pisa|desc=Junior Jordan Leen (top) and the wrestling team will travel to New York City tomorrow to take on Hofstra and Columbia.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]

Pollock is a former Cornell defensive lineman who was named to the 2005 first-team All-Ivy defensive unit and joined the Red wrestling squad during the second half of last year’s wrestling season. The Fulton, N.Y., native has found sanctuary on a Hofstra squad currently ranked sixth in the country and off to its best start to a season in program history. Still, with a year of wrestling eligibility under his belt, Pollock has been wrestling while earning his MBA in Hempstead, N.Y.

“I came to Hofstra because they would let me wrestle and it seemed to be a great fit,” Pollock said. “I might not be the best guy on the team, but I think the guys here look at me as a role model in the classroom, having come from Cornell and all. It will be good to see [the Cornell team] tomorrow, but it will just be another match besides the fact that it might just be a little more personal.”

Not only will the match tomorrow be a reunion between Hammond and Pollock, but it will also be a reunion between two former coaching mates and two former finals opponents. Hofstra head coach Tom Shifflet came to Cornell as an assistant coach under head coach Rob Koll in 1997, before heading to UNC Greensboro. Also, Hofstra assistant coach Joe Dubuque bested sophomore Troy Nickerson last season for a 125-pound national title while still at Indiana. Shifflet, who coached 24 NCAA qualifiers and three NCAA All-Americans while on the East Hill, watched his last recruiting class at Cornell finish fifth at last season’s nationals in Oklahoma City.

“Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Troy wrestle Dubuque again,” Koll said. “As far as Shifflet goes, it will only be fun if we win. Wrestling is a small community and I know every coach, so the fact that Shifflet is over there doesn’t make it any more special unless we beat him and decide to rub his nose in it. That would be the only fun in beating Hofstra. We’re not going there to have fun socially. We’re going there to wrestle well.”

Cornell will be favored at 125, 133, 149 and 197 pounds if Nickerson is in the lineup, with possible swing matches coming at 165 pounds and heavyweight. At 165, junior Steve Anceravage, ranked 10th in 165, junior Steve Anceravage, ranked 10th in the country, will be slated to wrestle Hofstra’s No. 6 ranked Mike Patrovich. Overall, Hofstra has nine of 10 wrestlers ranked nationally in the top-20. Cornell has four wrestlers ranked in the top-5 of their respective weight classes.

“We’re excited because we’re going to be forced to wrestle well,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier, who wrestled under Shifflet in a Red singlet. “We know what kind of coach Tom is and we know he’ll have his guys ready to go. Us and Hofstra are becoming a little bit of an instate rivalry. It’s only good for the sport. No other team in this state can push us like Hofstra can.”

Later that evening, Cornell will travel to take on Columbia (4-2, 0-2 EIWA) in the Ivy opener for both squads. Columbia, which hasn’t won an Ancient Eight title since 1980, is a team that Cornell hasn’t taken for granted, especially since the Lions just recently cracked the national top-25 team rankings.

“Columbia is certainly tough,” Koll said. “We can’t and won’t look past them. The team knows the countdown clock only ticks down to nationals, but that doesn’t mean we don’t value that Ivy League championship. We know we have to beat teams like Columbia if we are going to win it. That is certainly something not lost on this match.”