February 9, 2007

Wrestling Hosts Penn in Epic Ivy Showdown

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The two teams have been likened to the North and South, fire and water, mongoose and snake. When Cornell (4-5, 1-1 EIWA) hosts Penn (6-5, 2-0 EIWA) tonight inside the Friedman Wrestling Center, more than bragging rights will be on the line. Not only will Cornell attempt to get off on the right foot in capturing its fifth Ivy League championship in a row, but it will do so against a team that has been looking forward to this affair since Cornell won 6-of-10 bouts to best the Quakers, 20-12, inside Penn’s home arena last season.

Despite last season’s dual-meet outcome, Cornell won’t allow itself to think that last year has any affect on this year’s match up. All the Red is looking to do is keep its momentum rolling after defeating No. 8 ranked Hofstra and an upstart Columbia squad in back-to-back dual meets last weekend.

“We know Penn’s hoping to knock us off this weekend,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier. “We have to step it up like we did last weekend in New York City. Guys have to step up at every weight and wrestle hard. If we can wrestle for seven minutes in each bout, we know we’re going to win.”

To compound the optimism embracing the squad as nationals approach, Cornell looks to send out its full starting lineup for the first time since before the start of the season. Now fully healthy, tonight will be the first opportunity to catch a glimpse of what very well might be the program’s best team in history.

“It’s the first time since October where we’ve had our full team,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We’ve lived through the year and it’s not by accident that we’ve come together right before the Penn match. We take the year in sections and what is most important to us is Ivies and nationals.”

Highlighting the match will be the bout that takes place at 133 pounds. Last year’s national champion — Penn’s No. 1 Matt Valenti — makes his way to East Hill in a highly anticipated match against No. 3 sophomore Adam Frey. If Frey can pull out the victory, he’ll stay undefeated on the season and remain the only wrestler in the nation at 133 pounds that could boast such a claim. Despite the buzz surrounding the match, both wrestlers are a good bet to see each other again at the EIWA tournament before nationals in Detroit, Mich.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Adam to jump to a No. 1 ranking,” Koll said. “Obviously, we know that doesn’t guarantee a national championship. However, regardless of what people say, it still makes that road to one a little easier.”

Another intriguing match will be that of sophomore Josh Arnone, making his home debut against Penn’s No. 13 ranked Lior Zamir. During a match against Columbia’s No. 14 Justin Barent last weekend, Arnone was penalized a point for stalling with one second left to go. The point was crucial as it sent the match to overtime, where Barent won on a take down.

With all matches sure to be close against Penn, the Red sees the Friedman Wrestling Center as the decisive factor in the outcome of the match. Combine that with the fact that the team has been wrestling very well of late and that the match will be televised on CSTV, and the Red is confident that everything will fall into place.

“Hopefully it will come down to us feeling more comfortable because we’ll be wrestling at home,” Koll said. “We know that every match will be close, but that basically means that we have the chance to win every single one of them. It’s on television and in our own building, so we want to put on a good show.”

Furthermore, with Penn or Cornell winning each Ivy League title since 1986, both teams know the Ivy championship goes through one or the other.

“It’s huge from a team and individual standpoint,” said senior Joey Hooker. “It’s not only for EIWA rankings, but for national rankings as well. Not only that, but we want that Ivy title. Five in a row will be something to be proud of.”

After tonight’s match against Penn, Cornell will host Princeton at 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. The senior class will be honored during a stoppage in action between bouts. Saturday’s affair will be the last time Cornell will wrestle on campus before the start of the postseason.