August 23, 2007

Battle: Wrestling Provides Squirmy Fun

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This column appears in the 2007 edition of The Sun’s annual Freshman Issue.

In the Battle series, Sports editors chose their favorite Cornell sports to watch, and defended their selections (with valor).

I’ve seen many a sport in my 21 years on this earth, and have covered everything from field hockey to baseball during my tenure with The Cornell Daily Sun, but there is without a doubt one sporting event which has distinguished itself as the most exciting and watchable event on this campus — wrestling. I know what you’re thinking, what is this crackhead talking about? Isn’t Cornell known for its men’s hockey and lacrosse teams? Isn’t Lynah Rink — when filled with droves of the Lynah Faithful — the pinnacle of collegiate athletic entertainment? Well, I guess that depends on whom you’re talking to, and since I am writing this article, the answer is a resounding “no.”
I mean, I’m all about saying stuff like, “screw B.U. and Harvard too,” and berating the opposing goalie’s mom and girlfriend at Lynah Rink, but at this point in my Cornell career, I’ve been there and done that. And don’t get me wrong, I think each and every one of you little confused freshmen should stumble down (and yes you should be pregaming for it) to watch the hockey team play at least once over the course of the next school year. But, if you’re looking for a truly electric environment, then your real destination should be the Friedman Wrestling Center to watch our nationally ranked wrestling team compete (and destroy) whoever its poor opponents might be that day.
But before I get into the exact reasons why wrestling is the best team to watch on campus, let me throw out this word of caution. As former Assistant Sports Editor and fellow wrestling beat writer Tim Kuhls ’07 once told me, “It’s going to take you awhile to get used to how — cough — uncomfortable — cough — it is to watch.”
The Birdman knew what he was talking about, as I found myself looking the other way on more than one occasion during my first experience at a match. Granted, watching two men who could easily break your spine like a twig rubbing up on one another and getting into some “oh so” sensual positions can be an uncomfortable experience for even the most secure and strong-stomached man. Throw in the fact that you can see their junk and it ranks just below your yearly physical and just ahead of all Prince videos on the uncomfortable scale. But hear me out; the following is a list of reasons why the wrestling team deserves your respect, attention and — more importantly — attendance at its next home match.
Number 1
The team is incredibly good and will continue to be throughout your career here on East Hill. In 2005, led by Travis Lee’s ’05 second national championship, the team finished in fourth at the NCAA tournament. The very next year, Ivy League Freshman of the Year Troy Nickerson took second in the country at 125 pounds to help Cornell earn fifth place in the NCAAs. And last year, the team won its first EIWA championship since 1993, and despite a “disappointing” NCAA tournament still managed to crown four All-Americans and take 12th place. Now you may not be that impressed by those results, but if that is the case, you are just ignorant to how impressive they truly are.
First of all, no other team at this school (including our beloved hockey and lacrosse teams) can boast that type of consistent recent success. Secondly, virtually every member of the team underachieved at last year’s NCAAs, and with any luck, the squad might have completed three straight years of top-5 finishes. But when your team plays poorly and still manages to take 12th place in the country, you know something is going right with the program.
And lastly, it is important to stress that year-in and year-out, Cornell’s main competition at the top of the national rankings are Big-12 and Big-10 schools (such as Oklahoma and Minnesota) who can routinely hand out scholarships to their athletes. Cornell on the other hand, being an Ivy League school, has no such luxury and must rely on the guile and charm of Koll to recruit its athletes.
Looking to the future, the team graduated only one starting athlete (senior co-captain and two-time All-American Jerry Rinaldi ’07) while the Class of 2011 includes wrestlers from all but one weight class and combined for 21 high school state championships
Number 2
Head coach Rob Koll is the legend. No other head coach at this university is so a) energetic, b) successful, c) colorful as Rob Koll. Although he is a self-admitted American Idol fanatic (which certainly hurts him in my judgment), the man can coach. You will never hear one of his athletes say one bad word about him, his success speaks for itself, and he does it all with the wit and color that all sports journalists drool over. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard coaches tell me that their team needs to “take it one game at a time,” and “all we can do is give it 110 percent.” Those clichés suck, there is just no way around it, how am I expected to write a story around such bull—-? But, I never had a dull interview with Koll; he was unafraid to tell it like it was, doing everything from bashing his team when they performed poorly to poking fun at the idiot behemoths of Cornell’s opposition. So why do you care? It’s pretty simple, when you go to a match, I promise that Koll will make his presence known to the officials early and often, just sit back and enjoy the show.
Number 3
There is no more exciting an atmosphere than a Cornell wrestling match. Sure Lynah is fun, but the Friedman Wrestling Center brings a whole new type of intimacy to the table. With the entire crowd surrounding one mat in the middle of the arena, no other Cornell sporting event can consistently produce the noise level of a wrestling match. And with only one match going on at a time, everyone in attendance is focused on just the two athletes on the mat at all times. As a result, the crowd reacts to each and every move with exact precision.
Number 4
Finally, once you get beyond those uncomfortable first few minutes, wrestling as a sport is as good as it gets in terms of entertainment value. Each individual match brings its own drama, excitement and violence. I mean, who doesn’t like seeing two drunk guys go at it outside of a bar at 2:45 a.m.? So picture watching one late night brawl after another without, of course, the punches or the biting for two hours. Because make no mistake about it, these kids are brawling. They are fighting with every ounce of energy they have in them to gain points for their team. You can’t have an off day as a wrestler in the hopes that your teammates will pick you up. If you’re off you’re “A” game, you will not only be physically manhandled (and most likely hurt) but also (with all eyes fixated on your match) emotionally embarrassed. There is just something about mono-a-mono competition that brings out the best in people. From my experience, it is not always the best athlete with the best technique who wins a match, it is often the one who wants it more. And that, my friends, is what sports are all about. So I urge you all to look past Lynah and consider attending a match of the most exciting and successful program on this campus — wrestling.