On St. Patrick’s Day, the Cornell wrestling team made sure the day was celebrated with Red. Three Cornell wrestlers were crowned NCAA champions on Saturday, March 17 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. on the final day of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. The three champions are the most in a single season in school history and tied with Penn State for the most at this year’s tournament.
“Last year we had ninety-something points, we took second, and I was crushed,” said head coach Rob Koll. “This year I couldn’t be happier.”
Three seems to have been a lucky number for the team, as junior Kyle Dake’s national title was the third of his career. The Ithaca native was the first of his teammates to hit the mat for his championship match. With an undefeated season on the line, the No. 1 seed at 157 pounds squared-off against No. 2 Derek St. John of Iowa after having cruised into the finals with a dominant tournament run that included pins of his first three opponents and a shutout decision in the semifinals.
The junior only gave up a point (on a stalling warning) en route to a 3-1 victory. The three-time champion earned his win, all while losing a contact lens in the second period as a result of persistent shots to the head from St. John. The match was intense on both sides, as Dake’s own head shots drew blood from St. John in the third.
“I didn’t really get to my offense like I wanted to … [St. John] didn’t really do anything anyway, he just punched me in the face a bunch of times,” Dake said immediately after the match, eliciting a chorus boos from the Iowa crowd followed by a crescendo of cheers from Cornell supporters.
The three individual titles are the most of any wrestler in school history. Dake is only the twenty-sixth wrestler in NCAA Division I history to accomplish the feat. Next year, Dake will have the opportunity to compete for a fourth title, which would place him in the elite company of only two other wrestlers — one of whom was in the audience on Saturday, the head coach of Penn State – Cael Sanderson.
In a way, winning a fourth would make Dake unique, in that neither Smith nor Sanderson won their titles without a redshirt season. Even if Dake is unable to claim this singular accomplishment next year, the junior has already etched his name into the history books this year by becoming the first wrestler to win three titles at three different weights. Dake won at 141 pounds his freshman year and 149 pounds last year before moving up to 157 this year.
“Each year I come in with a new mindset – that I’m not the best in the weight class – so I gotta prove myself each year,” he said.
After two more championship matches were put into the books, senior Steve Bosak stepped onto the center mat to face last year’s champion – Quentin Wright of Penn State. With a takedown by Wright in the second period and two escapes by Bosak – one in both the second and third periods – the match went into sudden death overtime where Bosak managed a takedown to earn his first national championship. “I’ve worked on that a long time in practice – it’s one of my go-to finishes,” he said about the move. “I was like, you know what, let’s not take this to double-overtime, let’s finish it now.”
The ecstatic Bosak gave a shout out to the Cornell fans in his post-match ESPN interview saying, “You guys are the best fans in the country! I love you!” The win was a vindication of sorts for Bosak who had lost earlier this season to Wright. The two have only faced each other twice in their collegiate careers; however, they are familiar with each other since childhood, as they both hail from State College, Pa. State College is incidentally where Coach Koll was also raised, and so he admitted feeling quite pleased that the State College native was able to beat a wrestler from Penn State.
Unfortunately for the Red, Bosak’s victory did not make a difference in terms of the team race. The Nittany Lions ran away with the team title this year. Despite scoring the most points in school history at nationals, 102.5, the Red still fell short of Penn State’s commanding 143 points. Second-place Minnesota scored 117.5 points, while Iowa placed third with 107.5. By comparison, the Red finished second last season to a Penn State team that won with 107.5 points.
Although Bosak’s victory could not stop Penn State from winning the team title, his win did limit the Nittany Lions to three individual champions. Overall, besides the three champions, the Red had two more all-Americans, including senior Frank Perrelli who finished fourth and sophomore Mike Nevinger who finished seventh. Following Bosak’s match, senior Cam Simaz made it three-for-three for Cornell in the finals with a victory over Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt. Both seniors entered the match as the top seeds at 197 pounds and each carried only a single loss all season.
The top-seeded Simaz’s loss was from an injury default, however. After the first period ended with Honeycutt in the lead 2-1, the Edinboro wrestler chose the down position to start the second period managing to not only escape but reverse Simaz – lifting the senior off his feet and into the air before bringing him back down for two points and a 4-1 lead. Simaz quickly escaped and secured his own takedown to tie the score.
The No. 1 seed then dominated an exhausted Honeycutt in the third to win 7-5. The win capped an impressive career for the four-time all-American who accumulated the third-most wins (140), the second-most wins by fall (47) and the most wins by bonus points (98) in school history.
The win is also perhaps the cap on the most successful era in Cornell wrestling history.
“This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and we had three titles – three champions – that’s pretty impressive,” Simaz said.
Despite losing three of five all-Americans after this year though, Koll said he does not believe that this will ultimately be the peak of Cornell wrestling, though a team championship still eludes the school.
“It’s a high-water mark for Cornell for now. We’re looking towards the future – I believe having three national champions is going to help me bring in the next group of recruits,” he said “We gotta bring in great recruits to be able to compete with Penn State – they got a juggernaut going there. But we’re going to take them out, if not tomorrow, then the next day.”
Original Author: Brian Bencomo