March 9, 2009

Wrestling Defends EIWA Title

Print More

The Palestra gymnasium, in the heart of Penn’s campus, has, according to Penn’s website, hosted more NCAA tournaments than any other collegiate facility. This weekend, the storied building hosted the EIWA Wrestling Championships, a vital qualifier for the NCAAs, and a title No. 2 Cornell has held for the past two consecutive years. Yesterday, the Red reigned supreme once again, sending seven wrestlers to the finals, and securing the team title in dominating fashion, 35 points ahead of runner up Lehigh.
The two-day tournament began Saturday morning with the qualifying rounds and consolation matches. All of the Red’s wrestlers dispatched their first opponents fairly easily — with the exception of senior heavyweight Zach Hammond, whose match went into overtime — but ran into some trouble in the quarterfinals.
[img_assist|nid=35924|title=Prepare for total domination|desc=The wrestling team sent seven wrestlers to the finals and picked up some hardware along the way, in addition to the EIWA trophy.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Sophomore Corey Manson, wrestling at 141 pounds, took on a No. 1 seed, Harvard’s Corey Jantzen. The match was back and forth over the four periods, with Manson tying the score up with one minute left to go. Looking to pick up more points, Manson cut his opponent loose as time ran down, and his strategy seemed to have worked when he appeared to score a takedown with time expiring; however, the ref didn’t see it that way, much to the frustration of Manson and the Red’s coaching staff.
Head coach Rob Koll said he was disappointed by the noncall, which decided the match in Harvard’s favor, 5-4, and will make it a lot harder for Manson to advance to the NCAAs next weekend.
“I think [the ref] got excited and just didn’t call it,” Koll said. “[Jantzen] is really highly ranked, and I don’t think [the ref] wanted to be the one who knocked him out of the tournament.”
After drawing a first round bye, sophomore DJ Meagher faced a No. 2 seed, Navy’s Bryce Saddoris, as his first bout of the day. Saddoris opened up a lead early, and, despite his efforts, Meagher was unable to catch up, losing by major decision, 16-5.
Koll said that the bye may have ended up hurting DJ.
The third wrestler to fall was Hammond, who also faced a No. 2 seed, also named Zach — Zach Rey of Lehigh, and lost a tough one by decision, 3-1.
At the end of the day, Cornell had the most overall points, followed by the home team Penn and Lehigh, the school Koll said might be the Red’s toughest competitor at the EIWAs. One of the main reasons for Cornell’s sizeable point total were all of the bonus points the Red was earning, more by far than any other team. Koll said before coming to Philadelphia that bonus points could be key to the team competition.
Cornell associate athletic director Steve Erber said he felt confident about the team’s title hopes after the watching the Red in the first couple of rounds.
“We’re wrestling really well,” he said. “I think we’re doing great.”
Throughout the day, the cavernous Palestra, whose polished floor had been outfitted with four mats for the occasion, echoed with the cheers of the several hundred fans that had traveled to Penn for the tournament in supports of various alma maters. Cornell had a good turnout, filling the seats in the 200 block and adding a square of bright, Cornellian red to the muted maroons and blues of the stands.
Sophomore Mack Lewnes remarked jokingly, however, that he was a little disappointed that Lehigh seemed to have brought a larger crowd.
In the semifinals, the Red continued to rack up the big wins, led by a couple of wins by fall and a major decision.
Junior Troy Nickerson advanced to the finals at 125 pounds following a win by fall a little over a minute into the match. At 133 pounds, sophomore Mike Grey defeated his Lehigh opponent by decision, 9-3.
Moving on to 157 pounds, senior captain Jordan Leen defeated his opponent by decision as well, 5-1. Earning another win by fall was sophomore and recently-declared Ivy Wrestler of the Year Mack Lewnes, who earned his victory at 165 pounds at the 2:39 minute mark.
Senior Steve Anceravage earned a major decision at 174 pounds, 10-2, while sophomore Justin Kerber and freshman Cam Simaz both won by decision as well: Kerber by a score of 5-3, and Simaz after his opponent dropped out due to injury. With the win, Kerber, seeded third, became the lowest-seeded wrestler to advance to the finals.
The floor of the gym was reconfigured for the finals, and only one center mat was left, flanked by the trophy table and one of the press boxes. The coaches had changed for the finals too, apparently, leaving their opening round khakis and polos at the hotel in favor of dark suits and ties.
After a short opening ceremony, the competition commenced with the 125-pound title match, pitting Cornell’s Nickerson, seeded No. 1, against the No. 2 seed, Penn’s Rollie Peterkin. The match was close, with both Peterkin and Nickerson getting some good opportunities for possible pins. Nickerson seemed to be starting to overpower the Penn wrestler in the third period, however, and continued to keep Peterkin on his heels for the rest of the match, finally winning by decision, 5-2.
Cornell sent a wrestler to the finals of the next weight class, too, as No. 2 Grey was set to face Navy’s Joe Baker, the No. 1 seed. In an exceedingly tough match, Grey seemed to be getting the better of Baker, but Baker was able to pull out the win with a couple of quick moves as time wound down in the final period. Baker ultimately took the individual title with a win by decision, 5-3.
The match at 157 pounds pitted Leen against No. 1 JP O’Connor of Harvard. From the start, the match was an extremely physical one. In the beginning, O’Connor seemed to be having some trouble with his headgear — it kept popping off — much to the annoyance of the crowd, which started to boo the Crimson wrestler and his equipment malfunction. On the mat, however, Leen consistently made the first moves, aggressively shooting in on his opponent. However, with a minute left in the first, an apparent noncall on a Cornell takedown had Koll on his feet, arguing with the ref, and the Harvard wrestler writhing in pain on the mat.
Throughout the competition, Lehigh’s fans, sitting in the section next to Cornell, loudly berated and booed Leen, a surprising display since Lehigh was not represented in the match.
Finally, Leen was able to put O’Connor away, and, much to the vocal displeasure of the Lehigh contingent, was awarded the 8-2 decision.
“Leen showed why he’s a national title contender,” said assistant coach Cory Cooperman.
Next on the mat for the Red was Lewnes, wrestling the No. 2 seed from Bucknell, Andy Rendos. Lewnes scored first, earning a takedown in the first period, but the score was tied up 2-2 in the second. An important reversal in the third, however, sealed the Bucknell wrestler’s doom, and Lewnes took the match by decision, 5-3. The win was Lewnes’s tenth tournament win in two years.
Anceravage was up next for the Red, competing against No. 1 seed Mike Canon from American University. Although quiet on the first period, the action heated up as the third period ticked down and the match went into overtime with the score 1-1. With four seconds left on the clock, Canon scored a takedown and handed Anceravage the heartbreaker, 3-1.
The 184-poud match featured Kerber, the third seed, wrestling against the No. 1 seed from Lehigh, David Craig. From the outset, Kerber seemed outmatched against the rangy Craig, and was unable to make any of his advances stick. Despite a third period where Kerber made a solid effort to score, Lehigh took the match by decision, 4-0.
Rounding out the evening for the Red, Simaz was able to simply walk out onto the mat for his title, earning a win by forfeit at 197 pounds.
“I think we wrestled well,” Koll said. “It’s hard not to be disappointed. This is an indicator of what we have to do to get ready for the NCAAs and based on this weekend, there’s not a whole lot we have to do.”
In terms of the losses, Cooperman said that it’s better the team loses a few now, than at Nationals. “I’m glad to take a couple losses here, instead of this being our peak,” he said. “My guys are not satisfied. If they were satisfied, this would be the National tournament.”
The Red took home some extra hardware following the end of the match, as well. Anceravage and Nickerson both took home a second silver cup apiece –– Anceravage for earning the most points over his career in the EIWA, and Nickerson for the most pins in the shortest amount of time. When the team went up to have its picture taken with the EIWA trophy, all of the wrestlers sported purple leis, gifts from assistant coach Travis Lee’s mother. Lee was inducted into the EIWA Hall of Fame this weekend. Lehigh was awarded the sportsmanship award, to the astonishment and laughter of the Red wrestlers.