Bags are packed, tray tables have been stowed and all seats have been returned to their full and upright positions as the wrestling team makes its way to Auburn Hills, Mich., for the start of the Division I NCAA wrestling nationals which are set to commence tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. After six months of dual matches and grueling practices, the countdown clock inside the Friedman Wrestling Center will tick down to zero, thus signaling the start of wrestling’s most prestigious collegiate tournament.
While most of the preparation each Cornell wrestler has endured over the past week has been strategically mental, there still isn’t anything lost on the importance of being physically prepared. After wrestling through a season full of injuries and sickness, all eight Red wrestlers making their way to nationals know what it means to be physically ready. As is reiterated throughout the season, every match during the regular season is just practice for nationals.
“You do all the physical work all season long,” said assistant coach Cory Cooperman. “After six months of drilling and technique, all these kids could not wrestle at all the week leading up to the tournament and still be more than prepared for nationals. Everything is about keeping them happy and making them feel in control. They could be sore and wrestle fine. They’ve all been wrestling since they’ve been six, so at this point, we don’t worry about them forgetting how to wrestle.”
Instead of drilling, a new focus preparing each wrestler’s body for the rigors of wrestling’s only full-scale three-day tournament have been taking shape. Just before the weekend, wrestlers had been simulating a three-day tournament by routinely coming into the Friedman Wrestling Center at 9:00 a.m. in order to ready for the proponent of wrestling early in the morning — something the body of a college student isn’t normally prepared for.
“The coaching staff really does a great job of simulating a tournament,” said sophomore Josh Arnone, who will be competing at 184 pounds. “They want us fresh and I put 100 percent trust in all our coaches to have us prepared. All of them have been there before and all know how to win. If it’s early in the morning, you have to be ready for it.”
While wrestlers file in and out of Friedman throughout the day, one thing that doesn’t disappear from their routine is that of weight training. Although the load might lessen, it’s still important that each wrestler get their reps in.
“We do still lift,” said head coach Rob Koll. “It’s a major part of our program. That’s one thing we don’t scale back on.”
Given that each wrestler feels fresh and ready to go, the most physical challenge that lies ahead for each of them before they take to the mat is that of making weight. Although most wrestlers have controlled their bodies by this point in the season, the dreaded morning weigh-in can still be a cause for concern, especially on the tournament’s first day where there is no weight allowance.
“Cutting weight is still a huge issue,” Cooperman said. “It’s really more in the first two days of the national tournament than the last. Your body always tries to catch up after wrestling a lot during the first two days. The first day is tough, the second day isn’t as bad and then the third day is always the easiest [to make weight]. At that point, you literally want to get on the scale as soon as possible because you know you’re wrestling for a title or for a certain place among wrestling’s best.”
While Cornell anticipates another top-5 finish, physical talent will only take them so far. On wrestling’s biggest stage, what counts is that physical talent is coupled with unlimited desire. Cornell hopes to continue the tradition of seasons past, peaking at the end of year when the matches count most. While most of the country again seems to be overlooking the East’s most dangerous team, don’t be surprised to see the Red pushing the pace as usual.
“At this tournament anybody can get beat at any time,” said assistant coach Tyler Baier ’05. “You know at this tournament that you’re going to run into somebody that has nothing to lose. If you wrestle defensive and you’re not looking to make things happen, then it’s usually too late to make adjustments. Before you know it, your season is over.”