Coming off arguably its most successful season in team history, the wrestling squad, ranked No. 5 in the nation, will open its 2011-12 campaign this weekend. Friday night will feature what should be a highly competitive dual match against No. 3 Minnesota starting at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Red will host the annual Body Bar Systems Invitational, an all-day event.
Both events will be at Newman Arena, not the Friedman Wrestling Center. In fact, most of the Red’s home matches this season will be at Newman, due to the expectation of large crowds. Friedman’s capacity is only 1,100 spectators.
The Golden Gophers come to Ithaca not only ranked No. 3 in the nation, but with wrestlers ranked in the Top-10 nationally of each of the ten weight classes. No Gopher wrestler is ranked No. 1 in his weight class, but two are ranked No. 2 — one at 125 pounds and another at 197 pounds.
The Red boasts seven wrestlers in the Top-20 in the nation, three of whom are ranked in the Top-10 — returning All-American seniors Steve Bosak at 184 pounds and Cam Simaz at 197 pounds, as well as two-time defending national champion junior Kyle Dake (who has moved up a weight class from last season to 157 pounds).
According to Dake, Minnesota will provide one of the best early-season matches for the Red in years. While the rankings seem to favor Minnesota in most of the matchups, head coach Rob Koll cautioned that too much weight can be put into the rankings.
“Rankings just make the sport interesting, and the kids care about them, but when you get on the mat, anything can happen,” he said.
Koll believes that seven or eight matchups are toss-ups that could go either way. One such match is at 125 pounds, where Cornell senior Frank Perrelli, currently ranked No. 7, will face off against No. 2 Zach Sanders of the Gophers. According to Koll, Perrelli has consistently matched up well against Sanders, but has generally come up a point short.
Another interesting matchup will be between Bosak, ranked No. 4, against Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus, who is ranked No. 6. The most intriguing matchup, though, figures to be between the top two wrestlers in the country at 197 pounds — Simaz (No. 1) and Minnesota’s Sonny Yohn (No. 2).
“I think he’s one of the best wrestlers that I’ve wrestled. You want to compete against the best, so I’m excited,” Simaz said.
Although Simaz didn’t wrestle Yohn at National Duals last year, he has beaten him before. In the last matchup between the two schools, the Red defeated the Gophers, 20-16, in the semifinals en route to its first ever National Duals title.
But this Cornell team will feature a number of new faces after the graduation of five seniors from last year’s squad. Although a slight concern for Koll, his players’ inexperience is widely overblown, according to the coach.
“These are guys who might not have been wrestling varsity for Cornell, but they’ve had a great deal of experience in the last umpteen years,” he said. “I’m not overly worried about them getting too nervous wrestling in front of a crowd. They wouldn’t be wrestling here at Cornell if they didn’t have pretty impressive credentials coming out of high school.”
According to Dake, sophomores Mike Nevinger at 141 pounds, Craig Eifert at 149 pounds and Marshall Peppelman at 165 pounds are three wrestlers in particular he expects to have breakout seasons. All three are ranked in the Top-20 in their respective weight classes, and Dake specifically pointed out Nevinger’s potential.
“I think that if [Nevinger] just keeps making the strides that he’s making, he’s going to be one of the best guys in the country come March,” Dake said.
Minnesota is also one of the ten teams competing at the Body Bar Invitational on Saturday. However, only some of the Gophers will participate, as most of the team will be preparing for a match on Sunday against defending national champion Penn State.
The other eight teams wrestling in the Invitational are Virginia, Drexel, Army, Ithaca College, Kent State, Lock Haven, Buffalo and Binghamton.
Original Author: Brian Bencomo