March 24, 2011

Dake Earns Second Consecutive Individual National Championship

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — It was the same result for the second consecutive season. In addition to Cornell’s second-place finish as a team at nationals, sophomore Kyle Dake once again earned an individual national title. Not only was this the fourth consecutive year a Cornellian has been among the 10 national champions, but the 149-pounder Dake is also the first Cornell wrestler since Travis Lee (2003, 2005) to win two national titles and the first since Dave Auble (1959, 1960) to accomplish this feat in consecutive years.

After a disappointing loss in the finals of the EIWAs, the title was a vindication for Dake who tore through the competition allowing only one point throughout the entire tournament — albeit a questionable point on a controversial illegal move call in his finals match against Penn State’s Frank Molinaro. The victory was also a repudiation of the surprisingly low No. 4 seed Dake was given entering the tournament.

Dake’s dominating decision over Molinaro, 8-1, was perhaps a bit surprising given that his previous four matches had been getting progressively tighter (9-0, 8-0, 4-0 and 3-0). Aggressive from the start, the Ithaca native picked up two points on a takedown 26 seconds into the match and proceeded to ride his opponent for the approximately 2.5 remaining minutes in the first period. It was in the midst of this riding that Molinaro was given a point on the illegal move call.

Despite this extended riding time — a wrestler who has more than a minute riding time advantage over his opponent is granted a point at the end of the match — Molinaro surprisingly waved off his coaches’ wishes and started the second period from the down position.

“I was shocked,” Koll said.

It proved to be a mistake by Molinaro as Dake continued to ride him and managed to pin his left shoulder to the mat with a power half, earning three more points. As the Cornell contingent began to chant “Beat Penn” and “Go Dake,” the second period ended with Cornell wrestler leading, 5-1.

Dake added another two points early in the third with an immediate reversal. As Koll looked on intently, legs crossed and looking quite confident in the final outcome, Dake continued to ride Molinaro for an impressive 6:17 to earn an extra point and a decisive victory, 8-1. Given that an entire match is only seven minutes, maintaining over six minutes in riding time is certainly atypical.

“I just mat turned him as hard as I could, got my legs in, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze till I felt like he kind of relaxed a little bit, and then I moved on to the next thing and just kept working,” Dake explained when asked in the post-match press conference how he was able to ride for so long.

Although it is probably too early to seriously consider, winning his second title as a sophomore, Dake has the unique opportunity to become a four-time national champion. That feat has only been accomplished twice before, and ironically, the last man to do it, Cael Sanderson, was sitting in the opposing coach’s corner during his championship match.

Dake will be the first to admit that it is much too early to think about this potential accomplishment. In his post-match press conference, he brushed off a question about the possible mounting pressure to win four.

“Next year I can’t win four national titles; I can only win three,” he said. “So take it year by year, match by match, season by season. Just focus on the goals at hand and take it one year at a time.”

Taking it one year at a time may be just the right sort of mentality Dake needs in order to accomplish that ultimate goal. Whether that type of mentality is what allows him to be so successful when the stakes are highest is uncertain, but the sophomore certainly seems to embrace those situations.

“I’m addicted to the limelight,” he added in his post-match interview with ESPN.

“Wait till the lights go on, the crowd gets a little bigger and more vocal. That’s when he’s [at] his best,” said head coach Rob Koll.

Those lights will be shining just a little brighter next year, and that crowd may be a bit larger and more vocal. It is for this reason that Koll is confident that Dake will be back in the same position at this time next season.

“I will be surprised if he doesn’t win four NCAA titles,” he said.

Original Author: Brian Bencomo