March 2, 2007

Wrestling Seeks Title at EIWA Championships

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After months of practicing on the mats of the Friedman wrestling center and competing in tournaments and dual meets all over the country, the wrestling team has finally reached the moment it has been waiting for all season long, the postseason. The Red — who traveled to East Stroudsburg, Pa., yesterday — will compete in the EIWA championships all day today and tomorrow for a chance to capture its third EIWA title during head coach Rob Koll’s tenure as a Cornell coach and its first since 1993. Just two weeks later the squad will head to the NCAA national championships in Detroit, Mich., for a chance to place in the top-5 nationally for the third consecutive year.

[img_assist|nid=21792|title=On top|desc=Senior tri-captain Jerry Rinaldi (top) and the wrestling team will look to win their first EIWA championship since 1993 this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=72]

“I am more fired up than I have ever been this year,” said junior Jordan Leen. “I woke up at 5:30 a.m. the other day and just couldn’t go back to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about these tournaments.”

Although the EIWA crown has remained elusive to the current members of the wrestling team, with local rival Lehigh capturing the last five titles, the Red (9-5, 5-0 Ivy) is more confident than ever that it will prevail this year.

“On paper, this is the best team we’ve ever had and we couldn’t be more prepared,” Koll said. “If everyone shows up and wrestles the way they are capable of, I expect to win the championship and qualify 10 guys for the NCAA tournament.”

The Cornell wrestlers also share Koll’s confidence.

“We should win it handily; we are heavily favored on paper,” Leen said. “But we were the last few years too, so we just need to go out there and get it done.”

In order to accomplish its goal, the Red will need to defeat the 13 teams which make up the oldest wrestling conference in America, including five other Ivy League schools, Army, Navy, American, Bucknell, E. Stroudsburg, Rutgers, Franklin and Marshall and Lehigh.

The first order of business is knocking off the five-time defending champion Mountain Hawks of Lehigh, who defeated the Red 21-19 earlier this year in a dual meet. However, Koll feels a lot has changed since that match — mainly the health of his wrestlers — and that Cornell is primed to redeem itself.

“We had two guys hurt, including [No. 2 Troy] Nickerson that match and had two wresters pinned,” he said. “But now everyone in our starting lineup is fully healthy for the first time all season and we’ve had a great two weeks of practice. People give me grief for being so confident but I can’t help myself, we have a great team.”

In addition to Lehigh, the Red will also face some tough competition from Navy and Penn.

“Navy has a great tournament team because they have solid guys at every weight class,” Koll said. “They don’t have any real stars but they have 10 hard-nosed kids who all could place in the top-6, and when you do that, you score a lot of points.”

Cornell will counter with arguably the most talented team in the history of the program. This is evidenced by the fact that the team has three wrestlers seeded No. 1 in the tournament in their respective weight classes: sophomore co-captain Troy Nickerson at 125, Leen at 149 and senior co-captain Jerry Rinaldi at 197.

Other notable wrestlers include No. 2 seed sophomore Adam Frey at 133 — who is only ranked behind returning national champion No. 1 Matt Valenti of Penn — No. 3 seed junior Steve Anceravage at 165 — who finished second at the 2006 EIWAs — and No. 3 seed junior co-captain Zach Hammond at heavyweight.
In addition to its front-runners, Cornell has a number of wrestlers who — despite their low seeds — have the ability to make a run deep into the tournament. For instance, freshman Cory Manson — who is seeded No. 7 at 141 — has left quite an impression on his coaching staff and teammates over the course of the season.

“He is a true freshman who has done nothing but improve all year long and has lost by no more than one point to all of the top-6 guys in the country,” Leen said. “I’ve got a feeling he’s going to make a run, he’s my upset special.”

In addition to winning the tournament, Cornell is also looking to qualify as many wrestlers for the national tournament as possible, so it will have a better chance to defend its back-to-back national top-5 finishes.

“To be honest if we finished third and had 10 guys qualify for nationals I would be ecstatic,” Koll said. “If we won it and qualified six, I would be upset. To me this is a national tournament qualifier that I want to win; but winning a national title is ultimately what we care about.”