March 6, 2009

Wrestling Looks to Defend Title

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The big, digital countdown clock on the wall of the Friedman Wrestling Center is slowly ticking down the days left before the NCAA Championships. Today, the clock said 13; this weekend, when the team travels to Penn for the EIWA Championships it will say 11. The Championships are qualifiers for Nationals, and as such are an extremely important part of the process of being ready for the NCAAs, and the Red, currently ranked No. 2 in the country, will be pulling out all the stops to come away with its third straight team title, as well as NCAA berths in as many weight classes as possible.
Head coach Rob Koll is a big believer in the principle of “peaking” at the right time — matches during the beginning and middle of the season are a means to an end: success at the NCAAs. But Koll said that just because the EIWAs and the NCAAs are a week apart doesn’t mean the team can’t be attempting to be in peak condition for both commotions.
“You don’t just peak for one day,” Koll said. “You can hold a peak for 11 days. That’s really what we’re trying to do.”[img_assist|nid=35872|title=Knees out from under|desc=Sophomore Mack Lewnes takes down a Penn opponent on Feb. 15.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Red will be facing various teams from across the conference, but Koll said that Lehigh, ranked No.7, will be the returning champion’s greatest challenge.
Unlike the NCAAs, each team will be able to bring a full, 10-man roster to the meet, which will be scored more or less like a dual meet. Where Lehigh has an advantage, Koll said, is that it has 10 good, but not necessarily great, guys on the team who can all score by earning a third place.
On the other hand, Cornell has six or seven “superstars” who will win their weight class, while the other three wrestlers are good, but inconsistent. If they don’t place, Lehigh will win by nature of net points, even if Cornell has a more impressive roster.
“I am never overly confident when we go into a match like this,” Koll said. “You’re counting on 18-20 year-olds to be consistent. And the only thing consistent about 18-20 year-olds is that they are inconsistent.”
Because of this possibility, Koll said that he has told his players to make sure to dominate in their matches — they not only need to win, but also earn bonus points that can serve as a buffer in the team competition.
However, Koll said, telling the Red to “dominate” is kind of like telling LeBron James it’s OK if he tries to dunk during a game. This type of killer instinct has been “built into the psyche of our team,” Koll said.
This week in practice, the team has focused on being mentally prepared for the weekend. The heavy lifting, Koll said, should have already been done during the bulk of the regular season.
On the other hand, coaches walk a fine line in terms of how much practice is too much, and how much is too little, Koll said.
“You can’t just stop working out,” he said. “You have to stay close to the pain. But when you do that, you run the risk of injury. These are the fears of a coach.”
In order to cut down on the likelihood of injury to the starters, the non-starters have been taking a more active role in practice. The non-starters spar with a rotation of starters, which keeps the starters fresh and safer, but is extremely exhausting for the sparring partner who has to face wrestler after wrestler in a row.
“That’s really tough,” Koll said. “You have to make sure the [non-starters] know how much we appreciate them [especially in times like these].”
Competition for the Red will start at 10 a.m. tomorrow with the preliminaries, and will continue until the championship finals on Sunday night.
The Red’s lineup will feature junior Troy Nickerson at 125 pounds, sophomore Mike Grey at 133 pounds, sophomore Corey Manson at 141 pounds, sophomore DJ Meagher at 149 pounds, senior captain Jordan Leen at 157 pounds, sophomore Mack Lewnes at 165 pounds, senior Steve Anceravage at 174 pound, sophomore Justin Kerber at 184 pounds, freshman Cam Simaz at 197 pounds and senior Zach Hammond at heavyweight.
Among these 10 athletes are eight All-Ivy honorees, including four unanimous first-team selections, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year (Simaz) and the Ivy League Wrestler of the Year (Lewnes). There is a reason why Cornell has not lost an Ivy League title in seven years, and can now count itself among the biggest wrestling powerhouses in the country.
“We certainly expect to win,” Koll said. “Unfortunately, my expectations do not equal likelihood.” But, he added, “We are the best team.”