The wrestling team continued to make its bid for consideration as a legitimate contender for the national championship at the NCAA tournament in just over one month. The No. 13 Red (6-5, 3-0 Ivy) dominated long-time Ivy League rival No. 16 Penn (6-7, 2-2), 28-13, in front of an energized Friedman Wrestling Center crowd on Friday night. The squad then proceeded to win by the largest margin in school history Saturday afternoon, blanking Princeton (10-16, 0-4), 56-0, for its 26th straight Ivy League victory.
“We really did expect to perform like this,” said junior Jordan Leen. “This is the time of year when we start to fire on all cylinders. … We have to have these wins and now we have all the confidence in the world heading into the EIWA tournament and nationals.”
[img_assist|nid=21316|title=Shall we dance?|desc=Sophomore Josh Arnone (right), competing at 184 pounds, tries to pull down Princeton’s Oliver Notewar in Cornell’s 56-0 victory on Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=74]
Cornell got off to a slow start as the Quakers’ No. 17 Zach Shanaman upset No. 10 Steve Anceravage, 6-4, at 165 pounds, giving Penn a quick 3-0 lead and silencing an anxious home crowd.
Unranked senior Joey Hooker turned the momentum back in the home team’s favor, however, as he knocked off No. 10 Matt Harrington at 174 with a gritty, 9-7 decision to even the match at 3. Down a single point with only 1:30 remaining, Hooker jumped into another gear, earning two impressive takedowns to win the match and a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Sophomore Josh Arnone — wrestling in only his second collegiate match at 184 — kept the momentum going, earning a roll-over pin with only 1 second remaining in the second period against No. 13 Lior Zamir to give the Red a 9-3 lead. The packed crowd inside the Freidman Center acknowledged Arnone’s outstanding effort with yet another standing ovation, a scene which junior Jordan Leen felt helped the team immensely.
“It helps a ton to hear the crowd,” he said. “You can feel them come through you, and I think that hurt Penn just as much as it helped us.”
According to assistant coach Cory Cooperman, this was the turning point in the match.
“After Steve lost I was like ‘oh man this isn’t good,’ but when Hooker and Arnone stepped up to give us that lead, I knew we were in good shape because we had our studs still to come, [senior co-captain Jerry] Rinaldi and [sophomore co-captain Troy] Nickerson,” he said. “Those two guys set the pace for the rest of the match.”
No. 3 Rinaldi won at 197 by throwing Penn’s Jack Sullivan around like a rag doll; he accumulated six takedowns en route to a 15-3 major decision victory.
Junior heavyweight Zach Hammond took care of Penn’s Ben Reiter in a similar fashion, staying in control throughout the match for a 10-3 decision, increasing Cornell’s burgeoning lead to 16-3.
No. 2 Nickerson — showing why he is a trendy pick to win a national title at 125 — then proceeded to all but lock up the meet by wearing down No. 16 Matt Eveleth with a barrage of assaults, winning the match by technical fall 24-5.
The Red’s only real disappointment of the day came when No. 3 sophomore Adam Frey — who entered the match with an immaculate 12-0 record — faced off against Penn’s No. 1 senior Matt Valenti. The wrestlers were scoreless 1:30 into the first period when Valenti anticipated Frey’s grapple and reversed directions, curling him up and abruptly pinning him to make the overall score 21-9.
“[Frey] went for something and it just didn’t work,” said Cooperman. “Maybe he was a little too anxious but Valenti is a fifth-year senior and Frey is [a sophomore]. If anything, I think this was a good thing because it relieves some pressure on him. Now he doesn’t have to go into nationals with the pressure of having an undefeated record. Either way, Frey is destined for success.”
Freshman Corey Manson would lock up the victory for the Red with a 4-3 decision over Brett McCurdy, giving the Red an insurmountable 15-point lead.
No. 4 Leen then beat Rick Rappo 25-12 at 149, while sophomore Drake Hovis lost to No. 20 Matt Dragon, 13-2, to make the final score 28-13 in favor of the home team.
“When we’re clicking like that, it’s really hard to beat us,” Rinaldi said.
The following afternoon, a fully healthy Red squad shut out Princeton 56-0. On its way to the biggest victory in Cornell wrestling history, seven members of the squad earned pins, the quickest of which occurred when Nickerson ended Nikhil Pereira’s day in 27 seconds.
“If we didn’t beat Princeton that bad it would mean there was something wrong with us because they are a team that has been down for a long time,” Cooperman said. “This was a good weekend but we are still focused on winning the EIWA’s, especially since Lehigh has taken five in a row. That would solidify us as the best team on the east coast.”