There was not much breathing room for Cornell wrestling over the weekend against Lehigh and Lock Haven, but after a handful of close matches and besting Lehigh by a single point, the Red picked up two more dual meet victories.
Cornell (8-2) found itself in an early hole Saturday against Lehigh (8-2). Halfway through the match, the Red trailed Lehigh, 17-3, but Cornell found its way to defeat its EIWA rival, 21-20.
“We beat Lehigh six out of the last seven years,” said head coach Rob Koll. “This season they were expected to beat us. But it is always a heck of a match either way.”
A couple technical falls in the Red’s lighter weight classes put the team down by a significant margin by the time Dylan Palacio (165) took the mat. In a tight match, Palacio squeezed out a 3-2 victory over the Mountain Hawks’ Cole Walter, and the tables began to turn for Cornell.
“It was a tale of two halves with Lehigh,” Koll said. “We were down going into the intermission and came storming back and found a way to sneak that one out. When we were down 17-3 I thought our chances were slim at best. The guys on the top [of the lineup] are as good as anyone in the country.”
But some of Cornell’s lighter wrestlers struggled to find success against Lehigh.
“Noah Baughman (125) struggled as of late and gave up a big tech fall,” Koll said. “We have been trying to find an answer at 149 with Joey Galasso out of the lineup. His replacement Dylan Realbuto was not able to keep it close. Those were two big decisions. We also gave up a big decision at 157.”
After Palacio’s victory, Brian Realbuto (174) and Gabe Dean (184) gave the Red a much-needed boost with a pair of falls. These key pins gave the Red a 18-17 lead and put the squad in a position to win.
Ben Honis (197) edged out his opponent Ben Haas, 2-1, and won by decision. Honis’ deciding point in his match proved to be the difference, as the Red would go on to win the dual meet 21-20.
“Going into 197, we were up by 1,” Koll said. “All we had to do was win at 197 and that’s what we did. We were winning for about half the match. We had beaten the kid pretty soundly earlier in the year. And then all we had to do is lose close with the heavyweight.”
On Sunday, Cornell returned home to take on Lock Haven in another dual meet. Cornell won by a more decisive margin, topping the Bald Eagles, 31-15, and extended its win streak against unranked opponents to 70.
But like the previous day, Cornell found itself in a tough spot early on. The Red only led 16-15, heading into its final three matches.
Up first in the final three weight classes was Taylor Simaz (157), who forced a disqualification with his strong pressure. Brandon Womack (165) followed with a win by decision, controlling his opponent to a 8-2 victory.
Realbuto finished the day off with his second fall for the weekend, winning in less than a minute. The senior used a pair of back throws to ensure victory, with the second resulting in a pin.
“Once again we knew what we had at the end of the lineup,” Koll said. “Although it was good for the crowd it — the match was exciting until the very end — we knew we had Brian anchoring us. We knew we would get bonus points there.”
Dean also found his second win-by-fall for the weekend, pinning his opponent in less than 90 seconds in Sunday’s first match. The No. 1 wrestler at 184 improved to 22-0 on the season with 15 falls. 12 of Dean’s 15 falls have come in the first period.
Cornell’s third pin came from Baughman early in the third period of his match. The freshman’s win gave the lead back to the Red after having lost two straight at a key juncture in the meet.
“Noah Baughman bounced back,” Koll said. “He started slowly but wore [his opponent] down.”
After being tied at 12 heading into the intermission, Will Koll (141) won a key major decision of 12-0 to put Cornell ahead of Lock Haven for good.
Harvard and Brown are up next as Cornell begins Ivy League competition.
Cornell has a substantial historical advantage over Brown, with a 53-2 record all-time against the Bears — winning the last 19 straight matchups. The same can be said with Harvard, as the Red is 54-9 all-time and has defeated the Crimson in their last 15 dual meets.
“We always handle these opponents, we have for 14 straight years,” Koll said. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t good competition out there. I am confident that if we wrestle to our ability we will be just fine. But that doesn’t mean we always do that.”
The pair of dual road dual meets begin against Brown at 1 p.m. and Harvard at 6 p.m on Saturday.