This Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m., the Red will host one of the four regional wrestling dual meet championships taking place this weekend as part of the Division I NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals Championship. In addition to No. 3 Cornell, Newman Arena will also see No. 7 Illinois, No. 12 Oklahoma, and No. 25 Central Michigan along with unranked American and Purdue hit the mat. The sites of the other regional meets are Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Rutgers.
This marks the first year that the tournament has been broken down into regional championships with a final four the following weekend. Since its inception 23 years ago, the tournament has been contested at a single site over the course of two days. The field of teams competing has also been expanded from 16 to 24. The change in format is meant to create more excitement for dual meets.
“The idea behind this is to try to take wrestling where other sports are and put more emphasis on our dual meets as opposed to just the end of the year,” said head coach Rob Koll. “At the end of the year tournament you have 18,000 fans per session and it’s incredibly popular, but we would like to take that same model and put it into the dual meet format, which realistically is more fan-friendly anyway.”
Fifteen of the top-25 ranked teams in the country — according to the NWCA (Coaches’ poll) rankings — and eight of the top-10 will be competing for the regional title this weekend. Penn State — No. 2 according to the poll and No. 1 according to Intermat — will not be among the teams competing.
Koll expressed some his disappointment that the Nittany Lions chose not to partake in the reorganization of an event meant to increase the popularity of the sport.
“It is very disappointing they chose not to go,” he said. “We need all of our coaches on board — no one survives on an island in this sport.”
The six teams competing in each region are seeded one through six according to their national rankings with the top two seeds receiving byes in the first round. Although the action will start at 10 a.m. this Sunday, the top-seeded Cornell and No. 2 Illinois will not compete until noon against the winning team from the earlier matchups. The Red will face the winner of the Central Michigan v. Purdue matchup. Illinois will face the winner between Oklahoma and American. The winners from those two matches will faceoff at 2 p.m.
Both the Chippewas and the Boilermakers have three wrestlers ranked in the top-20 in their respective weight classes. The Red beat the Chippewas last season at Friedman, 24-10. Mack Lewnes ’11 beat a highly ranked Ben Bennett who has moved into the 184 pound weight class this year, where he would potentially face senior Steve Bosak. Both wrestlers are among the top-5 in their class. The Boilermakers also have a top-20 wrestler at this weight making it the only weight class at which both the Chippewas and the Boilermakers have top-20 ranked wrestlers.
Another potentially interesting matchup is at 125 pounds where Red Senior Frank Perrelli — No. 5 in the country — could face No. 17 Joe Roth of Central Michigan. Perrelli will also face stiff competition if the Red moves on to face Oklahoma or Illinois in the final. Both the Sooners and the Illini have top-10 wrestlers at this weight. Perrelli, coming off his 100th career victory last weekend, remarked that he was not preparing for a specific opponent but rather was preparing in the same way he would for any opponent regardless of ranking.
Under the tournament’s old format, Cornell won its first ever National Duals title last season after beating Ohio State, Missouri, Minnesota and Virginia Tech.
While the team stands a good chance of repeating this feat — fielding an undefeated team in dual meets this season — Koll did note that the squad is actually a stronger tournament team and that the makeup of the team is quite different.
Competition in the final will also be tough. Both the Illini and the Sooners have six top-20 ranked wrestlers. The Red has five — in addition to Perrelli and Bosak, junior Kyle Dake and senior Cam Simaz are No.1 at 157 and 197 pounds respectively, and sophomore Mike Nevinger is No. 16 at 141 pounds. Among the Illini’s ranked wrestlers are one each at 165 and 174 pounds — classes in which the Red has been weak this season.
Expecting to get to the final, Koll believes Illinois would be the more difficult opponent.
“They have a very strong dual meet team — they’re going to give us a heck of a challenge,” he said. “But I expect to win. I expect that we’ll win and advance to the next step.”
Original Author: Brian Bencomo