The Cornell wrestling team can lay claim to a title to start off this season that no other Ivy League wrestling team has ever been able to boast about: a No. 1 national ranking. While the Red has proven itself worthy of counting itself among traditional powerhouses like Iowa, Oklahoma St. and Minnesota in the national rankings in recent years, this is the first time that the Coaches Poll has deemed Cornell worthy of being ranked first in the nation — and unanimously at that. Despite this and the associated high expectations that have been swirling around the team, head coach Robert Koll, entering his 18th season at the helm of the Red, doesn’t see this as weighing too heavily on the team.“Individually you may feel it based on your own individual ranking, but I don’t think you really feel it as a team,” he said.Of course, as much pride as the title of No. 1 brings, Cornell has its eyes set on a much more important title — an NCAA national championship next March. On the team’s webpage and inside the Friedman Wrestling Center you will find a clock counting down the days to the 2011 NCAA championships: 118 days as of 10 a.m. today. When asked about his expectations for this season, Koll put it very simply.“Our goal is to not lose a match, to win the Ivies, Easterns, and Nationals,” he said. “I’d actually be disappointed if we don’t reach those goals.”Koll certainly has every reason to be confident in his team’s prospects this season. With eight consecutive Ivy titles and four straight EIWA titles, there is no reason to expect anything less than for the string of Ivy and EIWA titles to continue. Furthermore, the Red’s overall finish in the NCAA tournament has been improving in each of the last four seasons: Cornell finished 12th in 2006-07, ninth in 2007-08, sixth in 2008-09 and second in 2009-10. In a sport like wrestling, a team is only as good as its individual wrestlers. A top wrestling squad needs to have the best wrestlers at every single weight class. Returning this season are two-time All-Americans Mack Lewnes and Cam Simaz — both seniors — and national champion Kyle Dake, now a sophomore. Overall, seven members of the team qualified for the NCAA tournament last year. This season, Koll expects each of his starters in the 10 weight classes to qualify for the NCAA tournament.“I don’t mean to be flippant or cocky, but every one of our guys has the ability to go to Nationals and score some points for us,” he said. “And that’s why I can say without people smirking that we have a really good shot of winning a national championship. We have 10 very, very solid starters.”The road to a national championship begins tonight at 6:30 p.m., at the Friedman Wrestling Center with a matchup against No. 9 Central Michigan Univeristy. It will be the first dual meet of the season for both sides. Koll noted that not many people have heard of CMU, but that it has a very solid team nonetheless.“I expect a dogfight,” Koll said.“Central Michigan is tough,” said junior Steve Bosak. “There’s definitely going to be some great matches. We’re looking to start off the season right by coming out on top.”One of the intriguing matchups will potentially be that between Cornell senior Justin Kerber and Central Michigan’s No. 4-ranked Mike Miller in the 165-pound division. However, since Miller is battling an injury, Kerber may face his backup. Either way, Kerber said that his preparation would basically be the same.“Either way I need to keep my weight down, and go out and make sure that I control the tempo and wrestle my kind of match,” he said.Another matchup to look for is in the next weight class at 174 pounds, where No. 1-ranked Lewnes will take on No. 5 Ben Bennett. Lewnes talked about getting prepared mentally.“It’s also about mentally preparing yourself,” he said. “[Knowing] that it’s just another match, have some fun, and get ready to rock.”Tomorrow, Cornell will host the Body Bar Invitational at the Friedman Wrestling Center during which individuals from 10 schools, including Cornell, will compete for individual titles in each weight class.For Koll, Invitationals are a great opportunity to assess all the wrestlers and give an opportunity for non-starters to compete for a starting spot. Thus, this tournament will be especially important therefore for junior Oney Snyder and sophomore Stryker Lane, who are competing for the starting spot at 285 pounds.Besides Cornell, teams from Army, Binghamton, Buffalo, No. 6 Central Michigan, Clarion, Drexel, Ithaca College, No. 18 Kent State, Lock Haven and Sacred Heart will be competing. The action starts at 9 a.m.
Original Author: Brian Bencomo