March 16, 2011

Top-Ranked Cornell Seeks National Wrestling Title

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Nine Cornell wrestlers will begin their quest for the first NCAA National Championship in program history today, as first-round competition gets underway in Philadelphia, Pa. The Red is represented in nine of the ten weight classes and enters the final tournament of the season as the No. 1 team in the nation. One-hundred, ninety-seven pound senior Cam Simaz is the only individual No. 1 for Cornell (13-1, 5-0 Ivy League), but the Red is supplied with seven wrestlers ranked in the Top-dozen in their respective weight classes. Simaz has won 31 out of 32 matches this season and will face Ryan Smith, an at-large bid from California Polytechnic State, in the first round. “As long as we wrestle to our potential we have a good shot,” Simaz said.The Cornell wrestler with the most question marks surrounding him is 165-pound senior Justin Kerber, who will be wrestling in his final Championships on only one healthy knee. The fifth-year wrestler first injured his knee in a dual match last month, and problems with the same knee forced Kerber to withdraw from the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships two weeks ago. Kerber, who estimated his knee is 70 to 80 percent healthy, added, “In certain positions its 100%, and I’ll try to wrestle in those positions.” Red Head coach Robert Koll said Kerber and the Red will try to give everything they have into Nationals and worry about injuries in the offseason. “[Kerber] needs to find a way to deal with it,” Koll explained. “And he will find a way. He’ll be fine.” Kerber received an at-large bid into the Championships and is seeded No. 9 in the 165 weight class.Other Red wrestlers who are top contenders to win their respective weight classes are the 174-pound No. 3 (senior Mack Lewnes), the 184-pound No. 3 (sophomore Steve Bosak) and the 149-pound No. 4 (fellow sophomore Kyle Dake).Though only four Cornell wrestlers are ranked in the Top-4 of their weight classes, each year at least one lower-ranked wrestler makes it to the finals of the NCAAs. Coach Koll has a core of dark horse participants in seniors D.J. Meagher, Corey Manson, Mike Grey and Frank Perrelli.While winning the overall team championship is on every member of theRed’s wish list, strong performances in the Individual National Championship may be the wrestlers’ biggest goal. “Individual Championships are how we win the whole thing,” explained Koll. “In fact, we need to be more focused on winning our individual matches, or we won’t win as a team.” The team as undergone the lightest practices of the season recently in preparation of the Championships. None of the team’s workouts the last couple weeks, which are usually notorious for their duration and intensity, has lasted more than an hour.“We really try to back off them, keep them fresh and keep them from getting weighed down,” Koll said.The rest should come in handy when the top-ranked squad is trying to fend off national title rivals such as No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Penn State. “We have the same amount of talent that a school like Penn State or Iowa or any other national front runner has,” Simaz said.The Red is the only team that is not able to grant athletic scholarships among the national title contenders. “It does make it a little bit more difficult for a school like Cornell,” Simaz said.Becoming the first team from the eastern United States to win the national title in over half a century is how the Red hopes to cap off its season. The team has defeated nearly every opposing squad the past five months, and a championship would be a fitting finish to the lauded careers of the Cornell seniors — the winningest class in Red history. Winning the NCAAs may establish the Cornell wrestling program as a force for many years to come, according to Coach Koll. “Recruiting the next group of national champions is a lot easier to do once you’ve recently won one.”

Original Author: Brian Gordon