Two weeks removed from an upset win over Minnesota, the Red heads West this weekend to compete at the Las Vegas Invitational looking to make a statement heading into Winter Break.
“This is really the culmination — the peak — of our first semester. Then we really back off so the kids can focus on their studies … We’ll amp it up again second semester when they get back,” said head coach Rob Koll.
Koll said the trip to Sin City “fun,” calling it a chance to get some rare sunshine — although he admitted that Ithaca has been relatively warm this fall.
But it is certainly not all fun and games. Although none of the other Top-5 teams in the country (Iowa, Oklahoma State, Penn State and Minnesota) will join No. 5 Cornell in Las Vegas, Koll believes this is one of the top tournaments in the country.
“[It’s] probably the second toughest tournament in the country after than nationals,” he said.
Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State — three schools that crack the Top-10 in multiple polls — will be in attendance, as will other Top-25 schools such as Pittsburgh, Wyoming, Oregon State, Stanford and Kent State. Furthermore, with 30-40 schools participating, there will certainly be a number of highly ranked individuals wrestling.
For the most part the tournament consists of West Coast schools as well as some Midwest schools. The tournament provides an opportunity for wrestlers on the team to grapple with opponents whom they normally would not see outside of nationals.
There will, however, be some familiar foes in the arena. Kent State was in Ithaca for the Body Bar Invitational and challenged the Red for the tournament title. The Golden Flashes defeated both senior Frank Perrelli and sophomore Mike Nevinger in their respective finals, and sophomore Marshall Peppelman was also pinned by a Kent State grappler.
Harvard will also attend the tournament. Although not a top-ranked squad, the Crimson boasts an All-American and Top-10 wrestler at 157 pounds in Walter Peppelman, who is in the same weight class as No. 1-ranked Cornell junior Kyle Dake.
Dake, who has never faced Peppelman, said that he was not focusing on wrestling anyone in particular, but felt that wrestling with Peppelman’s brother Marshall every day in practice will serve as good preparation in case the two square off.
While there might be some inclination to look ahead at such potential matchups, Koll cautioned against thinking too far into the future. Not only is seeding not revealed until the day of the tournament, but quite often projected matchups do not end up happening as planned, Koll explained.
Despite the absence of All-American Mike Grey ’11 and defending national champion Dake in last year’s contest, the Red still managed to win the tournament handily. Cornell out-scored second place Wisconsin by 39.5, while the gap between the Badgers and 10th-pace finisher Oregon State was only 35. The team heads into this year’s tournament short-handed once again with No. 1-ranked senior Cam Simaz (197 pounds) out due to injury.
Simaz, who suffered a hamstring injury at the Body Bar, said he still requires time to heal, but expects to be ready to go for the the team’s next competition — the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1. The senior is confident that the younger players filling in for him will succeed in his absence.
“I’m sure they’ll take care of business in Vegas,” he said.
Original Author: Brian Bencomo