March 26, 2007

Four Wrestlers Named All-Americans at NCAAs

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Four Cornell wrestlers were honored on collegiate wrestling’s biggest stage yesterday. Taking part in the night session’s parade of All-Americans, senior Jerry Rinaldi, sophomores Troy Nickerson, Jordan Leen and sophomore Josh Arnone all were recognized for their accomplishments at this season’s NCAA Division I Wrestling championships held inside the Palace of Auburn Hills just outside of Detroit. After three days of non-stop wrestling, Nickerson finished third in the country at 125 pounds and Rinaldi finished sixth at 197, while Leen and Arnone finished eighth at 149 and 184 pounds, respectively. Although the team was dissapointed with its 12th-place finish, it still saw positive signs from the action.

“We had four All-Americans and we’re really proud of that,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We just didn’t score the points, didn’t make the pins and had too many should-have and would-have’s in the tournament. We had some kids that probably should have been in the placing rounds and it just didn’t happen this year. The good news is that we have two returning sophomore All-Americans and a returning freshman one as well. We’ve never had three returning All-Americans in the history of the program, so the future is bright. I’m not going to get too discouraged about our showing.”

Nickerson wrestled like a man who didn’t belong in the day’s consolation match championships, winning two matches without surrendering a point to give Cornell its highest placement in the tournament. In Nickerson’s later match of the morning against Indiana freshman Angel Escobedo, the five-time New York state high school champion dominated to finish this year’s tournament in third place. After being denied the privledge of wrestling in the finals because of a referee-awarded stalling point in a second tie-breaker against finalist Paul Donahoe of Iowa St., last year’s runner-up took the high road despite wrestling in his first wrestle-back action in either high school or college.

“I think the last time I had a wrestle-back match was in pee-wees,” Nickerson said. “[The semifinals] were definitely disappointing. I probably should have got a bigger lead in regulation instead of letting the refs decide it. Still, third place at the national tournament is a nice accomplishment. It wasn’t my goal, but it gives me something to work towards in the next two years.”

After wrestling to a scoreless first period, Escobedo chose to wrestle from the neutral position in the second and let Nickerson get high on a single-leg takedown, putting the two-time All-American Nickerson out in front, 2-0. After riding out Escobedo for the rest of the period, Nickerson escaped after starting down in the third and held a visibly tired Escobedo at bay for the remainder of the match.

“He’s a tough kid,” Nickerson said. “He’s big, long and lanky. I wrestled him this summer at 132 pounds and I knew I had to wrestle solid if I was going to win. I thought I wrestled well and was happy to end it 3-0.”

To get to the third-place match, Nickerson defeated Lock Haven’s Obe Blanc by major decision, 13-0. Given Friday night’s unfortunate result against Donahue, Nickerson took all his frustration out on an overmatched Blanc. Nickerson collected two takedowns, eight near fall points and a bonus point for riding time en route to the win over the No. 9 seed.

Although he lost twice on the day, Rinaldi finished sixth for Cornell in the 197-pound bracket. Wrestling for a berth into the third-place match, Rinaldi lost a close 4-3 decision to Hofstra’s Chris Weidman due to a scramble and escape with one second left on the clock. In a match up between two-time All-Americans, Rinaldi battled despite having his right leg heavily wrapped in tape. After a second period in which Rinaldi scored an escape and Weidman landed a late takedown, the two wrestlers then traded scoring in the third before the match’s late deciding flurry.

Rinaldi’s collegiate career was ended after a hard-fought and closely contested chess match against arch-nemesis Phil Davis from Penn State. After Davis knocked Rinaldi out of the championship bracket early on in Friday’s Session III, the two familiar rivals met again for a shot at fifth place in Friday’s morning session. Despite an early 3-2 lead, Davis took control of the match for an 8-4 win.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Rinaldi said. “Personally, I wanted to finish a little higher, but in hindsight I’m happy I finished as a two-time All-American. … I can’t say enough about this program and about these guys. It’s going to be hard [to leave], but you can’t be sad about it. I’ve just been thankful to be here, given all the amazing people I’ve met. Being a Cornell wrestler has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

Pitted against unseeded Indiana freshman Matt Coughlin in a battle for seventh place at 149 pounds, sophomore Jordan Leen — the No. 4 seed — was unable to muster any kind of momentum in losing an exciting 11-6 contest. After trailing 4-1 in the first period, Leen wrestled Coughlin even before surrendering two takedowns late in the second. After letting Coughlin up to start the third, Leen tried to score late takedowns but was denied by the Hoosier wrestler. Leen’s eighth-place finish earned him his first All-America honor.

Arnone, Cornell’s last All-American competing in the morning session, wrestled valiantly despite fighting off neck problems against Harvard’s Louis Caputo in an All-Ivy battle for seventh place. After wrestling to a scoreless first period, Arnone was thrown on his previously separated shoulder and took a minute injury time-out. Although Arnone was able to continue the match, Caputo started the third period from the down position and quickly escaped. With a point for riding time, the match ended 2-0 in the favor of the Crimson wrestler. Arnone became Cornell’s second freshman All-American to stand on the podium in as many years.

“It felt amazing to be up there,” Arnone said. “To wrestle your first nationals and come away with a plaque, it’s just a great feeling. I didn’t expect it, but I surely didn’t count it out. … I’ll take the next two weeks off and enjoy it.”

At the end of the night’s championship session, Koll gave out the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler Award to University of California Davis’ Derek Moore, who won a national title at 141 pounds by way of technical fall over top-seeded Ryan Lang of Northwestern. This year’s award was given out in honor of Koll’s father, the NCAA tournament’s first-ever two-time Outstanding Wrestler Bill Koll.

One of the tournament’s most unfortunate events took place before the morning session even started on Day 2 of the tournament. At 10:00 a.m., one hour before the start of quarterfinal and wrestle back action, sophomore Adam Frey’s season long struggle to make weight at 133 pounds finally caught up with him. Due to his inability to shed last minute pounds at the morning’s weigh-in, Frey was disqualified from wrestling against Missouri’s Tyler McCormick and his one team point was deducted from Cornell’s team total. Frey was the No. 3 seed at 133 pounds and leaves the tournament without All-America honors.

“It just comes down to discipline,” Koll said. “He had his weight close and chose to make some personal decisions that put his weight-cutting in jeopardy. It’s a major weakness he needs to work on. You can’t go drink water before a weigh-in when your weight is that close. It’s something you practice, just like technique.”

Junior Steve Anceravage started Day 2 action in impressive fashion, defeating Bucknell’s Andrew Rendos by a score of 4-2. The sweet feeling of success wouldn’t last long, however, as Anceravage was later eliminated in Session IIIs last string of wrestle back matches. Anceravage was the tournament’s No. 8 seed at 165 pounds and went 2-2 overall, earning his first victory by way of pin.

Senior Joey Hooker’s season ended in the Day 2 morning session after a 3-0 loss to Navy’s Matt Stolpinski at 174 pounds. Stolpinski, the No. 8 seed who was upset in yesterday’s first round, used a first-period takedown and a second period escape to seal the victory. Hooker left the tournament with a 1-2 record.

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 on the tournament’s first day of action. 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 1.