After finishing ninth in the nation last season, the wrestling team is poised to continue its assault on some of the nation’s top teams. Cornell was fourth in the preseason rankings, behind a trio of Big Ten schools — Iowa, Ohio State and Iowa State. The Red returns six All-Americans, each with a realistic chance of capturing an individual National championship.
“Our team goal is to win the Ivy League title, win the [EIWA] title and win a national title,” said head coach Rob Koll.
The biggest obstacle in the way of the Red’s championship aspirations is health. While Cornell has an elite competitor in almost every weight class, there are many classes with a significant drop-off in ability between the starter and the reserves. If Cornell can keep most of its top competitors healthy, it has an excellent chance at prevailing at Nationals.
“In the happenstance that we win a National championship, there will be great rejoicing in the Koll family,” Koll said. “We have the guys to do it. In wrestling, it takes a lot of great individuals. With our lack of scholarships, it’s tough to have the perfect alignment. It’s obviously very rare that the planets, the stars and the moon align the way that they have.”
In the 125-pound weight class, fourth-year junior Troy Nickerson hopes to regain his dominant form. Nickerson placed second at the NCAAs in 2006 and third in 2007, but was derailed by a torn labrum last season.
“He’s fine. He’s ready to rip and tear,” Koll said. “He should win a National title. He could have won even with the torn labrum last year, but we were cautious and wanted to let him get healed up.”
Sophomore Frank Perrelli is probably best suited to compete at 125, but because of Nickerson, Perrelli will probably attempt to bulk up and compete at 133 by the end of the season.
“He needs to lift up into the weight,” Koll said.
Perrelli was 16-13 at 125 pounds last year.
Sophomore Mike Grey had an excellent season wrestling at 133 a year ago. He finished sixth at Nationals and joined Mack Lewnes as one of the best rookie tandems in the nation. This year, he’s bulked up to 141.
“I got bigger over the summer,” Grey said. “Last year, it was pretty tough for me to make weight. I think [the new weight] is healthier and I’ll be more fresh at the end of the year.”
“We’re very strong at 141 with Mike Grey,” Koll said. “He’s ranked third in the country.”
The 149-pound weight class is a position with great uncertainty for the Red. Junior D.J. Meagher went 20-9 in the 149-pound weight class last season, but he is no longer able to make weight at 149.
With Meagher out of the mix, sophomore Corey Manson has the inside track at starting. Manson is recovering from shoulder surgery, so he will not start early in the season, but the team expects him to be ready to go shortly. While Manson heals, freshman Grant Daffin must hold down the fort at 149.
Cornell features defending National champion Jordan Leen in the 157-pound division. Leen, a fifth-year senior, was 27-3 one year ago during his first season at 157 pounds.
“He’s bigger and stronger than he was,” Koll said. “He needed to train all summer long and he did.”
National Freshman of the Year in 2007-08, Mack Lewnes hopes to match Leen’s national championship with one of his own in the 165-pound weight class. Lewnes, now a sophomore, reached the semifinals at Nationals a year ago. According to his coach, Lewnes has made extraordinary progress for someone who was already as dominant as he was a season ago.
“Mack is arguably our most improved wrestler,” Koll said.
The top-ranked Lewnes said that he is not letting his ranking get to his head.
“I’m ranked pretty high right now, but that doesn’t matter,” he said. “Anything can happen at NCAAs. I set my goal to win [a National championship] every year.”
Senior Steve Anceravage is looking to improve on last season’s sixth-place performance at Nationals. The Pennsylvania native was 35-7 with a team-leading 17 pins last season. Among active members of the team, only Leen has more career victories than Anceravage.
“Anything less than going for a National title would be setting his goals too low,” Koll said.
Rookie Cam Simaz will have a chance to prove himself at 184 early in the season. Sophomore Justin Kerber will start the season at 197, but could move back down to 184 later in the year. Juniors Nate Holley and Michael Moore will also battle for opportunities to compete in this weight class.
Although the position appears to be in great flux right now, if everyone on the team is healthy and Kerber is able to slim down to 184, he will probably be the team’s starter. Kerber was 28-11 overall as a rookie, wrestling at 174, 184 and 197.
Junior Josh Arnone will start the season nursing an injury, but should be a power when healthy. He ranked seventh in preseason polls and has aspirations of claiming an NCAA title.
“I’ve wrestled with him, and it’s no fun,” Koll said.
Until Arnone returns, it is likely that Kerber will compete at 197. There is a strong chance that when Arnone is ready to compete, Kerber will slide down to 184 and Simaz will be asked to bulk up and provide depth at 197. Junior Matt Panasevich is also very capable of competing at 197.
In the heavyweight division, Cornell is hoping that fifth-year senior Zach Hammond can finally manage a healthy season. Hammond has been plagued by injuries throughout his Cornell career. A broken elbow ended his season prematurely last season. He ranked ninth in preseason polls and, based on ability, might have deserved an even higher ranking.
“He’s worked hard,” Grey said. “It’s his senior year and he’s finally gonna get what’s coming to him.”