March 13, 2009

Wrestlers Head to St. Louis With Eyes on National Title

Print More

After years of training, hundreds of hours of practice, and plenty of blood, sweat and tears, the career-defining matches for several members of wrestling team are quickly approaching. Beginning Thursday, the second-ranked wrestling team will compete in the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Miss.
For the Red, all the pieces appear to be in place for a run at the Championship. Cornell finished 12th in 2007 and ninth last year, but this year’s team is one of the strongest in Cornell history. Seven wrestlers earned automatic bids into the Championship brackets. Two others received at-large bids. Cornell is one of only seven schools with at least nine qualifiers. Only Iowa State is represented in all 10 weight classes.
Cornell, Michigan and Nebraska are the only schools with two top-ranked wrestlers. Red sophomore Mack Lewnes is the top-ranked wrestler at 165 pounds. He placed fourth at Nationals as a freshman and was recently named Ivy Wrestler of the Year. Last weekend, he won his second consecutive individual EIWA Championship.
Cornell’s other top-ranked wrestler is junior Troy Nickerson. Nickerson, who wrestles at 125 pounds, placed third at Nationals in 2007, but was held out of last year’s tournament due to injury.
“I’m expecting nothing less for myself than to win the championship,” Nickerson said. “I’ve trained right and I feel I’m the best at the weight this year. Hopefully, everything falls into place and I can put together a solid three days. If I play my cards right and everything works out, I should come home with a title,” he said.
Senior Jordan Leen will be defending his title at 157 pounds. He won an EIWA title last weekend and is currently ranked third in his weight class. He has his sights set on another National Championship, but at the very least he should be on the podium as an All-American.[img_assist|nid=36051|title=Off your feet|desc=The Red is one of only seven schools in the country with nine wrestlers qualifying for the NCAA Championships.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Leen’s classmate, Steve Anceravage, also has an excellent chance of being an All-American. Anceravage finished sixth at 174 pounds last season and has a chance to place even higher this time around. He is ranked seventh in his weight class.
“I am aiming for winning a national title,” Anceravage said. “I certainly have the ability to do it; anything less would be a letdown.”
Sophomore Mike Grey is attempting to repeat as an All-American. He is ranked 11th at 133 pounds.
“Mike Grey has beaten the top guys in the country all year,” Nickerson said. “At Nationals, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first seed or if you’re the last seed.”
Freshman Cam Simaz is the only Cornell rookie who qualified for Nationals. The freshman won an EIWA Championship at 197 pounds. He is currently ranked 11th in the country.
Sophomore Justin Kerber joins Lewnes, Nickerson, Leen, Anceravage, Grey and Simaz as the Cornell wrestlers who earned automatic qualification to the Championship tournament. Kerber is the 14th-ranked wrestler at 184 pounds.
“I think the X-factors are Cam Simaz and Justin Kerber getting onto that podium,” Anceravage said. “They’ve certainly shown the ability to beat the best guys in the country.”
Sophomore D.J. Meagher and senior heavyweight Zach Hammond earned at-large bids to the Championships. Meagher will compete at 149 pounds. 141 pounds is the only weight class in which Cornell did not qualify a wrestler.
The team’s health is working in its favor. Most teams have to deal with a number of serious injuries at this point in the season, but Cornell is relatively healthy.
“Wrestling season is a long, grueling season,” Anceravage said. “We have our bumps and bruises, but so does everyone else in the country. We’re a lot healthier than we’ve been in the past, and we are probably a lot healthier than a lot of other teams in the country.”
Cornell will need a well-balanced effort to beat out Iowa, the top-ranked team in the nation.
“We’re definitely capable [of winning the national title],” Nickerson said. “Everyone’s really excited, and we’re looking forward to putting on a show out there.”
While the Red is not exactly taking the week off, the team’s practices will not be as grueling as usual.
“We have been saying: ‘The hay is in the barn.’ The hard work is done. Now is the time to fine-tune things and get ready to win,” Anceravage said.
“I think we’ve got something really special going on right now. I think everybody realizes that,” Anceravage said. “I think we’re going to win the National Title.”