AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The NCAA Division I wrestling nationals have not been back to Michigan since Michigan State hosted the event in 1943. After a 64-year hiatus, 13,887 fans welcomed back a blue collar sport back to a blue collar town — the Motor City. After the first day, sophomore Troy Nickerson ended the day with two first period pins, sophomore Adam Frey was upset, senior Jerry Rinaldi looked like a man on a mission, sophomore Jordan Leen quietly sliced his way through his bracket and four other Red wrestlers tangled for bragging rights. Despite some disappointment on day one, Cornell sits in a comfortable and enviable position — Alone in sixth place and ready for the annual second-day surge up the leader board.
“We aren’t really where we should be,” said head coach Rob Koll. “But we had a bad day one last year and we ended up just fine. We’re hoping things end up the same way.”
On the far west end of the Palace, sophomore Troy Nickerson kicked off Cornell wrestling’s showing at the National tournament by squaring off against Liberty’s Christian Smith. After Smith landed an early takedown to stun the Red faithful, Nickerson showed why he was named the tournament’s No. 2 seed despite only wrestling in 14 matches this season. Quickly after the takedown, Nickerson scored a reversal and pinned the overmatched Smith in 2:39. In his second match of the day, Nickerson continued his pinning ways, making short work of Wisconsin’s Collin Cudd. After a takedown 1:08 into the first period, Nickerson rolled Cudd over and collected three near fall points before securing the win by fall. Nickerson will face Indiana’s Angel Escobedo in tomorrow’s morning session.
Despite Nickerson’s dominance and fortune, sophomore Adam Frey was caught on the wrong side of a series of unfortunate events, losing his first match of the day against Iowa State freshman Nick Gallick. Starting the match in impressive fashion, Frey scored a takedown and tacked on near fall points to take a 5-0 lead halfway through the first period. However, as if Gallick had thoughts of Frey’s first match against Penn senior Matt Valenti fresh in his memory, Gallick caught Frey slacking on his grip and flipped the first-time national qualifier on his back. Frey, the No. 3 seed at 133 pounds, left the mat in disbelief.
“Obviously we’re a little disappointed,” Koll said. “He was winning 5-0 with two minutes of riding time. You figure you have that match in the bank and it goes the other way. He’s got a tough road ahead of him if he wants to All-American, but I think he’ll do it because he’s tough as can be.”
Frey would redeem himself in the day’s night session, disposing Hofstra’s Lou Ruggirello from the tournament by a score of 3-2. The two combatants wrestled to a scoreless first period before Frey collected the match’s winning three-point near fall in the second period. A pin looked to be in the works, but the head referee was kicked and forced to halt the match. Frey will face Missouri’s No. 8 seeded Tyler McMormick in tomorrow’s session III.
At 149 pounds, Cornell’s No. 4 seeded Jordan Leen added to his team-leading 34 wins and extended his team-best 14-match win streak by defeating Rider’s Michael Kessler by a score of 5-1. After a takedown in the first period, Leen rode out Kessler for the entire duration of the second and added a point for an escape after choosing to start the third period down. He then added another takedown late in the match to earn the victory. Leen then punched his ticket to the tournament’s quarterfinals by defeating Missouri’s Josh Wagner, 5-3. Tied at two going into the third period, Leen started down and earned a reversal to take the lead. Leen earned an extra bonus point for accumulating over a minute in riding time. Leen is set to face Edinboro’s Gregor Gillespie for a spot in the semifinals. Leen defeated Gillespie earlier in the season at the Southern Scuffle by a score of 9-4.
Seeded No. 8 at 165 pounds, junior Steve Anceravage ran into a buzz-saw in his opening round match against Minnesota’s Tyler Safratowich. After scoring an early takedown in the first period, Anceravage saw his lead slip away after allowing an escape and a takedown in the second. Escaping at the start of the third period after starting from the down position, Safratowich scored another takedown before being penalized for stalling to cut the lead to one point. With the match tallied at 5-4 with seconds remaining on the clock and riding time in Safratowich’s favor, Anceravage’s tries for a late takedown were denied as Safratowich scored added one last late takedown to win 8-4.
In the night session, Anceravage took out his aggression on Old Dominion’s Nick Pullano. After two first period takedowns and near fall points, Anceravage pinned Pullano in 2:22. Anceravage will face Bucknell’s Andrew Rendos in tomorrow’s morning action.
“Steve will come back strong,” Koll said. “He wrestled better in the second match and needs that boost to put him on the right path.”
At 174 pounds, senior Joey Hooker started his tournament off by defeating UNC Greensboro’s Joseph Lowe. Despite the match starting 30 minutes late because Lowe wrestled in the tournament’s first wave of pigtail matches, Hooker shook off all cases of rust in shutting down the taller Lowe’s offense. After a takedown with 10 seconds remaining in the first period, Hooker captured the riding time advantage in the second period and escaped after starting down in the third on his way to victory.
During the night session, Hooker lost a tough 3-0 decision to Oklahoma State’s Brandon Mason. Tied at zero going into the second period, it looked as if Hooker secured a takedown and subsequent near falls points. Despite struggling for control, the referee called both wrestlers out of bounds, leaving the two to wrestle out the rest of period from the neutral stance. A third period escape and a late valiant attempt by Hooker for a takedown ended in a Mason reversal, putting the match out of reach as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Hooker will wrestle Navy’s Matthew Stolpinkski tomorrow in the 174 consolation bracket.
“Joey wrestled real well today,” Koll said. “We were so upset there in the second because we thought he had near fall and takedown points but he came up with neither. The road through wrestle backs will be tough.”
Given a first-round bye at 184-pounds, sophomore Josh Arnone didn’t wrestle his first match of the day until the night session, where he gave Cornell its most thrilling match of day one. Pitted against No. 3 seed, Mike Pucillo of Ohio State, Arnone held his own and used a third period escape and takedown to seal the victory. At the end of the match, Arnone saluted the Cornell faithful, pointing his finger to the sky. Arnone is scheduled to wrestle Iowa State’s Jake Varner tomorrow morning for his first-ever All-America honor.
“He just wrestled a perfect match,” Koll said. “That’s what happens. You beat a three seed and you lose a three seed.”
At 197 pounds, away from the commotion that resulted in seeing Missouri No. 1 seed Max Askren lose to unseeded Brandon Halsey of Cal-State Bakersfield (Askren would lose again in the night session to be eliminated from the tournament), No. 4 ranked Jerry Rinaldi quietly controlled the pace of the match in dominating his first match of the tournament against Rider’s Timothy Morrison. After a takedown with 20 seconds remaining in the first period, Rinaldi escaped from the down position in the second and controlled the pace of the match in the third period to earn the 3-1 victory.
Rinaldi then earned his spot in the quarterfinals, where he is set to face Penn State’s Phil Davis tomorrow morning, by defeating Wisconsin’s Dallas Herbst by a score of 4-1. A early takedown in the first period and an escape with eight seconds left in the match were all Rinaldi needed to earn the victory. He spent the whole second period racking up two minutes in riding time, eventually ending with 1:14 overall.
“What a story it will be if Jerry can knock off Davis tomorrow,” Koll said. “It’s his arch nemesis and it will be an epic match. He knows that if he wants that national title, it goes through Davis.”
At heavyweight, junior Zach Hammond showed how hard it is to compete at anything less than 100 percent against wrestling’s elite, losing a 4-1 decision to Cleveland State’s Rashard Goff. Goff, who exposed Hammond’s inability to avoid multiple leg attacks because of a torn MCL, scored points on a third period escape and a late takedown. Having accumulated riding advantage time in the second period, Goff cruised to the victory.
His knee obviously a problem, Hammond then lost to Oklahoma State’s Jared Rosholt. Despite a heroic effort, Hammond surrendered an escape in the second and a takedown with 1:25 left in the match to lose 3-0. Hammond was the only Cornell wrestler to be eliminated on day one.