Afghanistan was under Taliban control, George W. Bush was serving out his first presidential term, Harry Potter was training for the Triwizard Cup and reality television had not yet been invaded by Simon Cowell the last time someone other than Cornell was crowned wrestling Ivy League champions. While the basketball team swept its Ivy opponents this weekend in front of national sports commentators, the wrestling team stayed home in snowy Ithaca to easily dominate Brown and Harvard, 46-4 and 44-6, respectively, before earning its eighth-straight Ivy League title.
There was little hype –– and certainly no television crews –– but merely the same brilliant, dominating results the team has produced all season long. Somebody call Fox Sports, because Cornell’s got some serious champions on its hands, and they come dressed in bright red spandex.
It was a fitting send off for the squad’s nine seniors, competing in their last home match of the season on Saturday. In front of a packed Friedman Wrestling Center crowd, the nine were honored before the afternoon match against the Crimson.
“[That] was definitely emotional,” said senior Troy Nickerson. “It’s hard to believe it’s gone by this fast. I’ve always enjoyed wrestling at home, especially in the Friedman Center in front of our fans. We’ve got a great fan base. I speak for myself and the rest of my senior teammates when I say it’s definitely something we are going to miss.”
Friday night’s match saw four wins by fall, coming from Nickerson, junior Mike Grey, senior Josh Arnone and junior Mack Lewnes. Lewnes’ pin, the 38th of his career, set a new Cornell record for career falls.
Lewnes said he would need to use his final season with the Red to try and push that record even higher, if he had any hope of keeping it very long. “I’ve got to keep building on that record,” Lewnes said, “because I’m sure one of our young studs will be [closing in] on it soon.”
No. 2 Nickerson started the evening off with a strong performance and ultimate win by fall at 125 pounds. No. 10 Grey followed him at 133 pounds, pinning his opponent in less than two minutes. Freshman Cody Kelly started in his first dual meet for the Red at 141 pounds, and earned a win by forfeit, moving Cornell’s lead to 18-0.
Next to take the mat was junior Cory Manson, wrestling at 149 pounds, who earned a 6-2 decision with over two minutes in riding time. Classmate Derek Schreiner won the next match for the home team at 157 pounds, 6-3. It was his first dual victory of the season. Another freshman, Cody Hutcheson, started at 165 for Cornell. Hutcheson, also wrestling in his first dual match lost, 18-4, by major decision, earning Brown its first –– and last –– points of the match.
Lewnes opened his match at 172 pounds aggressively, taking a 6-1 lead in the first period, then pushed his lead to 14 in the third before ultimately earning the pin at 6:30. Another forfeit at 184 pounds, credited to senior Nate Holley, resulted in an easy two team points. With two weight classes left, sophomore Cam Simaz, wrestling at 197, scored four takedowns and a nearfall to win, 20-6, a major decision. Senior Josh Arnone finished the Bears off with a pin at 5:50.
“We’re going out and just start beating on teams so we can peak at the right time,” he said. “This time in the season is usually a lot of fun.”
With a share of the title assured, the Red returned to Friedman on Saturday for its matinee match against a presumably extremely intimidated Harvard. Looking just as confident and aggressive as it had 18 hours earlier, the Red made short work of the Crimson with a dual win that featured five pins, including Nickerson, Grey and Lewnes’ second pins of the weekend. Nickerson ended his match after just 1:20. Also earning wins by fall were junior Justin Kerber and Cam Simaz.
Head coach Rob Koll featured a slightly different roster from the night before, wrestling No. 16 senior Steve Bosak at 184 pounds, and Kerber at 165. The freshman Cody Kelly earned his second win of his career after earning his second win by forfeit. The only Cornell loss came at 157 pounds, with Schreiner losing, 7-2, to No. 1 JP O’Connor.
While winning the Ivy crown has, by now, lost a little of its notoriety for the Red, Lewnes said that the team still appreciates the symbolic nature of the victory.
“It’s a nice honor,” he said. “We want to win the Ivy title. But at the same time our goals are much, much higher. We want a national title.”
Nickerson agreed. “Winning the Ivy title is a big deal, but we kind of look past it a little bit. We think of it as something we should win every year, hands down.”
The weekend will also act as yet another confidence boost for the team as it gears up for the conference and national title meets. “We gain a lot of momentum,” Nickerson said.
For now, the Red will start to become less team-focused in practice, with shortened, intense training periods designed to allow the starters who will be competing in what amounts to the team’s postseason to really work on their individual strategies.
“Our team season is pretty much over,” Nickerson explained. “So we’re focusing a lot more on the 10 guys going into the conference meet and making sure everyone has a game plan.”
Original Author: Meredith Bennett-Smith