February 8, 2007

Wrestlers Vie for One Nationals Spot

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To describe the wrestling team’s depth at 174 pounds as being stacked would be an understatement — a better word would be loaded. The only problem is that there are two magic bullets, both of which are vying for their place inside the single shot revolver that is the 174-position on Cornell’s national tournament squad.

Although it isn’t determined as of yet who will wrestle at 174 come March, seniors Luke Hogle and Joey Hooker will both have their opportunities to prove themselves. With both classmates wrestling well at both 174 and 184 pounds this season while sophomore Josh Arnone has been out due to injury, the fact that there are two wrestlers vying for one spot this late in the season is a more-than-unique situation for a coach to have.
[img_assist|nid=21224|title=I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.|desc=Senior Joey Hooker throws his opponent to the mat during an 18-17 loss to Ohio State Nov. 26.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=69]

“In a way, I wish I had this situation every year,” said head coach Rob Koll. “The competition just makes them better and regardless of who comes out on top, someone could get hurt in practice or walking down the street. The depth just pushes them and makes them stronger wrestlers.”

In both cases, the spotlight is something each wrestler has earned and rightly deserves.

Hooker, ranked as high as No. 18 in the nation this season at 174, is no stranger to the national scene and has a knack for peaking at the end of the season. Named to the 2005 All-Ivy second team during the Arizona native’s sophomore year, Hooker earned a wild card berth to nationals and won his first match of the tournament by defeating Wisconsin’s Jake Donoar at 165 pounds. The next year, however, the emergence of junior Steve Anceravage at 165 put Hooker out of the lineup. He continued to work hard, though, while waiting his turn for a successful go-around this season.

“It’s tough,” Hooker said. “I’ve had to come in and work hard. I’ve just been trying to get back to where I was and go beyond that. The goal is to All-American this year. To get up on that podium would be a great feeling at nationals.”

Hogle, on the other hand, has experienced success this season thanks to a new-found healthy body. After battling knee problems early in his career before suffering a torn Achilles tendon that put him on the shelf last season, Hogle has been relishing his time inside the circle during his senior campaign. Despite often making the sacrifice of bumping up to wrestle at 184 despite weighing in closer to 174, Hogle has opened the eyes of many, especially after last weekend’s major decision defeat of Hofstra’s No. 8 ranked Joe Rovelli.

“They guys [at 184] are definitely a lot bigger and stronger,” Hogle said. “I’m a lot quicker than most of the guys, but they usually tend to be more physical than I am. In regards to the Hofstra kid, it just came down to a matter of styles. He likes to roll around and the coaching staff told me to watch out for that. Everything just seemed to work out.”

With three-and-a-half weeks remaining until the EIWA tournament, nothing is set in stone as far as nationals is concerned. Wrestle-offs, mostly foreign to the Cornell program inside the Friedman Wrestling Center, will be reinstated. In a wrestle-off, the two competitors wrestle each other to determine who gets to compete in the upcoming tournament. Depending on which way it goes, there figures to be no let down when it matters come March 15. All that really matters is that each wrestler gets his fair shot.

“They both understand the sport,” Koll said. “They’ve grown up this way. In this case, you have to reward each wrestler by giving them both the best chance possible to make the team. You have to give them a chance to succeed and we’re trying to give them that opportunity to shine by doing it the right way.”