March 5, 2007

Wrestling Squad Wins EIWA Championship

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The No. 12 Red wrestling team continued its recent dominance this weekend as it captured the 103rd EIWA championship held at East Stroudsburg University with a overall team score of 125.5, 19.5 points better than second-place Navy and its first such title since head coach Rob Koll’s last year as a Red assistant in 1993.

Six Cornell wrestlers advanced to the finals of the tournament, with juniors Jordan Leen and Steve Anceravage taking home individual titles in their respective weight classes. Furthermore eight Red wrestlers qualified for the NCAA tournament in two weeks by placing in the top-4 in their respective weight classes, the same number the team brought to nationals a year ago when it placed fifth.
[img_assist|nid=21832|title=Brace yourself.|desc=Junior Jordan Leen tussles with Michigan’s Josh Churella at the Body Bar Invitational on Nov. 18. Leen is one of the eight members of the Red to qualify for Nationals.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=69]
“Overall we can’t really complain, we’re counting our blessings,” Leen said. “We were really happy to get the first EIWA title in 13 years for coach Koll and have eight guys who have a great chance at going deep into the national tournament brackets.”

Sophomore tri-captain All-American Troy Nickerson — the No. 1 seed at 125 — cruised through his first three matches without giving up a single point, accumulating a pin, a 16-0 major decision and an 8-0 victory. In the finals, Nickerson faced off against No. 2 Matt Eveleth of Penn. Nickerson led 3-0 late in the third, but Eveleth eventually won the match 5-2 due to a rare mistake by the sophomore. Eveleth caught him in a headlock, flipping the Cornell wrestler on his back and leaving Nickerson fighting to avoid a pin for the rest of the period.

“Nickerson fought the whole third period knowing the best he could so was keep from getting pinned,” Leen said. “Athletic director Noel said that he felt Troy represented Cornell better than anyone else that day, by being determined not to be pinned despite knowing he would lose.” Similarly, sophomore No. 2 seed Adam Frey prevailed over his early round opponents before meeting his arch nemesis in the finals — No. 1 seed and returning national champion senior Matt Valenti of Penn — in the one of the most highly anticipated matches of the tournament. The rivals were scoreless after two periods, but Valenti took the lead in the third with an escape and a takedown. Although Frey made an escape, Valenti scored a bonus for riding time and eventually won a 4-1 decision to win the title.

Sophomore No. 1 seed Jordan Leen became the Red’s first individual champion of the weekend — and captured his first EIWA title in the process — by winning a 2-1 decision over Harvard’s No. 2 seed J.P. O’Connor at 149 pounds. Leen scored two points with a takedown in the second, which proved to be enough to overcome O’Connor’s riding time bonus point. Leen had his way with his early-round opponents, winning a 12-3 major decision over Austin Mister of Army, an 11-4 win over East Stroudsburg’s Scott Heckman and a 10-1 major decision over Columbia’s Matthew Dunn to get to the finals.

Classmate No. 3 seed Steve Anceravage completed a magical run through the tournament by winning the title at 165 pounds with a 9-6 decision over American’s No. 1 seed Mike Cannon. After easily beating his first two opponents, Anceravage got revenge on Penn’s No. 2 seed Zach Shanaman — who beat him 6-4 in a dual match earlier this year — by pinning him in 2:48 to proceed to the finals.

“I fully expected Steve to do that,” Koll said. “He is a great tournament wrestler and has the ability to do that anytime he steps onto a mat.”

The EIWA title remained illusive to senior tri-captain No. 1 seed Jerry Rinaldi, who was defeated 6-1 by American’s Josh Glenn in the finals at 197 pounds; it was the third straight year he has been the runner-up in his weight class. After having a bye in the first round, Rinaldi pinned Army’s Connor Sanders in his quarterfinal match in 1:21 and won a 16-4 major decision over Bucknell’s Eric Lapotsky.

At heavyweight, junior tri-captain Zach Hammond also made it to the finals, facing Navy’s Ed Prendergast. Although the two were wrestling a tight match going into the third period, Hammond re-injured a knee with a possible MCL tear but gutted out the rest of the match to lose 10-0. In his earlier matches, Hammond avenged previous losses against two separate opponents — Columbia’s Kevin Lester and Lehigh’s Paul Weibel — to make it to the finals.

“The injury will certainly limit him in nationals, but there is really not much you can do about it,” Koll said. “You just have to tape it up and go; he can push through it.”

Other notable performances include sophomore No. 6 seed Josh Arnone, who took third at 184, and senior No. 3 seed Joey Hooker, who placed fourth at 174, each earning a spot at the NCAA tournament.

Freshman No. 7 seed Corey Manson — who was predicted by many members of the team to make a run at the EIWA 141 title — ran into some bad luck and did not perform as expected. After winning his opening match, 4-2, over Bucknell’s Zachary Galligan, Manson faced No. 2 seed Matt Ciasull of Lehigh and lost 9-1. In the consolation bracket he then squared off against No. 1 seed Max Meltzer of Harvard, who ended Manson’s tournament by winning a 7-2 decision.

“Corey wrestled his heart out but had the worst luck imaginable with those two draws,” Leen said. “But he is still only a true freshman and has three bright years ahead of him.”

The five-time defending EIWA champion Lehigh Mountian Hawks, playing in front of a pro-Lehigh crowd, failed to capture a record six-straight titles. The team finished the tournament in fourth place with 82 points, behind Navy (106) and Penn (99.5).

Koll also picked up another award for his trophy case — which already includes four New York State Coach of the Year awards and a NWCA Division I Coach of the Year award — when he was honored at the tournament as the EIWA’s Coach of the Year.

“It doesn’t mean a thing to me,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing because it shouldn’t be my award, it’s the team’s and the coaching staff’s. But if it helps me get a recruit then I’m all for it.”