March 7, 2008

Grapplers Go Hunting for Second Straight EIWA Title

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Boasting a fully healthy starting lineup and riding eight-straight dual match victories, the No. 16 wrestling team will look to capture its second straight EIWA tournament title this weekend in Lancaster, Pa. In order to accomplish the feat, the Red grapplers must dominate one of the toughest wrestling conferences in the nation headlined by No. 25 Penn and traditional powerhouses such as Navy, Army and Lehigh. The 15-team field also includes six other Ivy League schools, Bucknell, Franklin and Marshall, American, East Stoudsberg and Rutgers.
Despite the deep and talented field, the grapplers are confident they can back up the hype that comes with being the top-ranked team in the tournament.
“We expect to win a title and repeat as champions,” said junior Steve Anceravage. “Anything else would simply be a disappointment.”
[img_assist|nid=28629|title=Get off my back|desc=Senior Nick Bridge loses by fall to Harvard’s Corey Jantzen at the Red’s last meet. Since the loss, Bridge dropped a wrestle off to sophomore Adam Frey, who will take the starting spot at 141 pounds at the EIWA tournament this weekend in Lancaster, Pa.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Anceravage’s freshman teammate Mack Lewnes echoed the junior’s confidence regarding the team’s chances to repeat.
“If we wrestle well, we can win it, we can really win anything if we wrestle well,” he said. “I would expect for us to win Worlds, if there were Worlds. It’s the power of positive thinking.”
Each school in the EIWA will be represented by a wrestler at every weight class and compete in a bracket-based competition. In the end, the top-3 wrestlers from each weight class will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and a committee will then choose 12 “wild card” wrestlers throughout the rest of the field to also give NCAA births.
In order to win one’s bracket, most wrestlers will have to win four consecutive matches, although some top-ranked athletes will have first-round byes and thus only need three-straight victories.
One key advantage for Cornell heading into the weekend is the team’s health. Except for the absence of junior heavyweight Zach Hammond (who is out for the year with a broken elbow) and two-time All-American classmate Troy Nickerson (who is also out for the remainder of the season), every Red starter is fully healthy and ready to compete.
For instance No. 4 ranked Lewnes, who has not wrestled since suffering an ankle injury in the Columbia dual match on Feb. 9, will return as the starter at 165 pounds while junior and No. 17 ranked Josh Arnone, who had shoulder surgery in the fall, will also get the nod at 184 pounds.
Senior Mike Rodriguez, who was just named a first-team All-Ivy performer and is ranked No. 3 in the EIWA tournament, will look to continue his great run since filling in for the injured Nickerson. After seeing limited action during his first three years with Cornell, Rodriguez has accumulated a 19-9 overall record this season. His biggest win was thrilling 14-4 major decision over Penn’s No. 8 ranked Rollie Peterkin, a victory that made the difference in Cornell’s triumph over the Quakers and ultimately led to the Red capturing its sixth-straight the Ivy League title.
“It was just unfortunate for Mike to be stuck behind [former national champion] Travis Lee and Nickerson,” Anceravage said. “He has sacrificed a lot to be where he is today and I think he has a legit shot at being an All-American.”
Freshman Mike Grey, who was recently named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, will represent Cornell as the No. 1 ranked wrestler at the EIWA tournament at 133 pounds. This marks the sixth-straight year that a Cornell wrestler has earned the Rookie of the Year.
“There’s no secret to why he has been successful,” Lewnes said. “It’s just about hard work. It is really annoying to wrestle a guy who just keeps going all match long like Mike does. He has the most majors on the team for a reason.”
At 141 pounds, sophomore Adam Frey has regained his starting spot after beating senior Nick Bridge in a wrestle off. Frey made it to the finals of the EIWA tournament as a freshman, but did not compete for the second part of this season due to team-imposed penalties for failing to make weight.
Freshman D.J. Meagher, who is ranked No. 5 in the EIWA tournament, will get the nod at 149 pounds while junior captain and first-team All-Ivy performer Jordan Leen will look to repeat as the EIWA champion at 157 pounds.
Lewnes, who is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation at 165 pounds and No. 2 at the EIWA tournament, will attempt to continue his phenomenal freshman season with a run through the 165-pound bracket.
Anceravage, much like classmate Jordan Leen, has his mind set on repeating as the EIWA champion at 174 pounds and is the favorite to do so with a sparkling 28-3 regular-season record.
“I just didn’t have any slumps in my matches this year, which allowed me to finally earn first team All-Ivy accolades,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of staying healthy and putting together three good matches.”
Former All-American Josh Arnone will start for Cornell at 184 pounds as the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the tournament while freshman Justin Kerber, who is undefeated since moving up two weight classes, will look to continue his hot streak at 197 pounds.
Finally, fellow freshman Maciej Jochym will fill in for Hammond at heavyweight as the No. 5 ranked wrestler in the tournament.
When the dust settles, the grapplers believe all 10 starters can qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. The most the Red has ever qualified has been nine wrestlers, which it most recently accomplished in the 2004-05 season.
“We are definitely striving for qualifying 10 guys,” Lewnes said. “I think everyone can do it.”