Bouts with mononucleosis, separated shoulders and broken fingers — all are things of the past for No. 13 ranked sophomore Josh Arnone, who will make his first-ever appearance at the NCAA national tournament on Thursday after finishing third at the EIWA tournament on March 3. After not being able to wrestle until late December because of sickness and then foregoing the entire month of January because of injury, Arnone has since defeated four ranked wrestlers in accumulating a 9-3 record at 184 pounds. Despite his most recent success, Arnone is just happy to be competing.
“At this point I’m just happy to be wrestling in the post-season,” Arnone said. “I’m just glad I’m healthy and that I’ve been given the opportunity to show what I can do. It was depressing sitting out and watching for as much time as I did. You have to be resilient and just keep at it, so fortunately that time has passed.”
Although it’s been a frustrating year, in regards to the amount of time spent away from the mat for the Honesdale High School product, the fact that he’ll be going into nationals as a virtual unknown could prove to be a silver lining in Detroit. For Arnone, a former Pennsylvania state champion that placed at the Greco-Roman national championships in high school, confidence breeds from the fact that the element of surprise is in his favor.
“Nobody knows him at all,” said head coach Rob Koll. “They don’t have recruiting files on him, they don’t have tape on him and he does have some tricks. If he gets on top of you, he can ride you and turn you. Spot someone three or four points and he’s still dangerous.”
As to what tricks Arnone possesses, it’s the ability to ride and score points off near falls that puts the opposition in jeopardy. The ability to excel on top, combined with solid neutral skills and a non-stop motor, make Arnone a wrestler that no top-ranked athlete wishes to draw when nationals is set to commence in three days.
“That tournament is a meat-grinder and nobody is going to want to see his name in their bracket,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier ’05. “He’s good on top, and when you can score three points at a time it can end a match quickly. That’s what separates the good wrestlers from the great ones. Nobody has ever seen him on his feet, and when it comes to scouting him, nobody knows what his attacks are going be like. Even when he’s on top, nobody is going to know what to expect.”
The only doubt surrounding Arnone is that the human biology health and society major has only wrestled in 12 matches this season. While spending the first part of the season watching as other wrestlers filled in for him at 184 pounds, Arnone has kept in shape by cycling, lifting and performing other various cardiovascular workouts.
“I’m probably the best stationary biker on the entire team,” Arnone said. “I guess that’s just what happens when you ride it as much as I have. Still, it was better than when I had mono and couldn’t do anything besides sit and watch everything. If anything, I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to do that again.”
Although he’s only been healthy for a month and a half, his shortened season could turn out to be a positive in that he’s stayed fresh and hasn’t been exposed to the rigors of a six-month long season.
“He’s been hurt, sick and although there has been some disappointment, sometimes it can be a good thing,” said assistant coach Damion Hahn, who won back-to-back national titles wrestling at Minnesota in 2003 and 2004. “I remember when I was a wrestling my junior year and I was out for the entire first half of the season because I was rehabbing from a knee injury. I thought it was a great thing having been out because I was fresh and ready to go for nationals when everybody was all beat up and couldn’t wait for the season to be over. Josh just needs to look at it like that and that mindset will really help him.”
If Arnone performs well in Detroit, it won’t come as a surprise to many inside the Cornell camp. Given that the 5-11 Arnone makes a living out of knocking off higher ranked wrestlers, the opposition should expect to wrestle full-go for the entire duration of the match.
“He’s a wrestler who will get after you for a full seven minutes,” Hahn said. “Sometimes we have to tell him to calm down in practice because he’ll get into his own little zone. In all aspects from neutral to top and bottom, he’s solid in all areas. He has all the tools and people will overlook him. Without a doubt, he’s our dark horse.”