February 15, 2008

Grapplers Set to Take on Toughest Ivy Opponent

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The No. 15 wrestling team will attempt to all but lock up its sixth straight Ivy League championship this weekend when it travels to take on No. 25 Penn and Princeton tomorrow afternoon. Although the Red has only competed against one other Ivy foe so far this season, a sweep of its two opponents this weekend would put Cornell in charge of its own destiny against relatively weak Ivy League competition later this year. Either Penn or Cornell has captured the Ivy title for each of the past seven seasons.
“The Penn versus Cornell match pretty much decides the Ivy title every year,” said junior Steve Anceravage. “The other teams [in the Ivy League] just don’t have the firepower to compete with us talent-wise.”
[img_assist|nid=27825|title=Bite your tongue|desc=Freshman DJ Meagher with wrestle Penn’s Cesar Grajales tomorrow, the nation’s thirteenth-ranked 149 lb. wrestler.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Yet a victory over the Quakers (10-4, 2-0 Ivy) will be no easy task, as Penn has a number of nationally ranked wrestlers and always poses a tough challenge for Cornell (4-5, 1-0) in dual meets. Last year, the Red took down the Quakers, 28-13, at Friedman Wrestling Center behind performances from All-American sophomores Troy Nickerson and junior Jordan Leen and senior co-captain Jerry Rinaldi.
Although Penn no longer is able to count on the production of last year’s 133-pound national champion Matt Valenti, it will have the advantage of being in its own gym filled by what promises to be a raucous home crowd.
At 125 pounds, Red senior Mike Rodriguez will have his work cut out for him as he takes on Penn’s eighth-ranked Rollie Peterkin. Peterkin defeated Nickerson in the finals of last year’s EIWA championships and appears to hold the advantage heading into the match, but Anceravage is confident Rodriguez has a fighter’s chance.
“Mike is definitely the underdog, but there is no doubt that he can win the match,” he said.
Another compelling match will be between Red senior Nick Bridge and the Quakers’ Rick Rappo at 141 pounds. Bridge — who has never been a full-time starter throughout his Cornell career — is filling in for sophomore and former Ivy League Rookie of the Year Adam Frey. After missing weight and causing a forfeit in two consecutive matches, head coach Rob Koll asked the team to decide what they wanted to do with Frey. The grapplers responded by issuing a number of team-imposed conditions which Frey will need to meet before he dons a Cornell singlet again this year.
“We wanted him to prove that he wanted to be a part of the team,” Anceravage said. “He should have the opportunity to wrestle again before the year ends.”
Freshman DJ Meagher will face yet another tough test when he battles No. 13 Cesar Grajales at 149 pounds while both Leen and junior Zach Hammond will return to the mat after a one-week injury hiatus at 157 pounds and heavyweight, respectively.
Two of the more compelling matches of the afternoon will take place at 165, with Red freshman sensation and No. 4-ranked Mack Lewnes grappling against No. 17 Zach Shanaman, and 184 pounds, where Cornell junior Josh Arnone will face Penn’s Lior Zamir. Lewnes is currently battling an weekend’s match against Columbia and should be put to the test by Shanaman’s scrappy style. Arnone — who will be competing in his third match since recovering from shoulder surgery — pinned Zamir last year but, according to Anceravage, the Red cannot afford to overlook the talent on Penn’s squad.
“Zamir should be ranked, he is really good,” he said. “It will be a tough match, but I know that Penn is expecting a win there.”
Despite all of the tough matchups, Anceravage is confident that the Red will pull out the victory.
“If we wrestle up to our ability, we should win the match,” he said. “I think we’re in good shape.”
Once Cornell finishes its 1 p.m. dual meet against Penn, it must quickly hop on a bus and drive down to Princeton for a 5 p.m. match against the Tigers. Princeton (0-13, 0-2) has struggled all season long and has not fielded a team which could compete with the Red in recent memory. In fact, the Tigers lost to Wagner 17-30 on Feb. 2, a team that the Red dominated 48-6 last weekend at Friedman.
With such an overwhelming talent differential, the Red is not concerned that the fatigue of traveling might play a role in the match.
“The traveling is fine since we are wrestling Princeton second,” Anceravage said. “If it was the other way around, with us wrestling Penn second, then I might be a little more concerned about it.”