For an 11th-straight year, Cornell wrestling returns to Ithaca with the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championship trophy. Four members of the Red took home first place, and six total wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Championships starting next Thursday.
This was the first time in recent memory that Cornell entered the tournament not as the favorite to win it all, but the Red was able to silence its opponents with a total of 163 points in the meet. Head coach Rob Koll did not doubt his team could pull off the program’s 25th EIWA title.
“We knew we could win if everyone contributed to the effort,” Koll said. “At the end of the day every wrestler not only won a match but scored bonus points. This team continually surpasses my expectations, and I have pretty high expectations.”
Lehigh — which entered the tournament as the favorite over rival Cornell — placed second with 117.5 points.
“I think Lehigh had some pretty clear falters that led to us winning by such a large margin,” said senior Brian Realbuto. “That is just a testament to our team’s ability to rise to the occasion. It could have just as easily been us making those mistakes, but instead we came together and got it done.”
Seniors Dylan Palacio (157), Realbuto (174), Gabe Dean (184) and sophomore Brandon Womack (165) were crowned champions on Saturday. Senior Mark Grey (133) and sophomore Ben Honis (197) finished third in their weight class and will join that group in St. Louis for the NCAA Championships. Also placing third in the EIWA was freshman Noah Baughman (125), who was in the running for an at-large bid, but was denied.
“We did just about as well as I could reasonably expect,” Koll said. “We had a couple missteps but far less than could be expected at a tournament as tough as the Eastern Championships.”
Two-time NCAA champion Dean became the 11th wrestler in tournament history to take home an EIWA title four times. With a pair of falls and technical falls each on the weekend, Dean moves within two wins from setting a program record for career wins.
Realbuto and Palacio won their third and second straight conference titles, respectively. They along with Dean become four-time NCAA qualifiers. For his first time, Womack placed first and will appear in the National Championships. These first place finishes were key in the squad’s championship campaign.
To its benefit, the Red entered the final session Saturday night with a comfortable lead over its competition.
“I’m really proud of the younger guys who stepped up and got bonus points early on and gave us the boost we needed to keep the streak alive,” Realbuto said.
Yet positive results did not just fall into the defending champions’ lap. Several of Cornell’s final matches ended in decisions that had the fans on the edge of their seats.
“Although the matches were all close, our guys controlled the tempo and pushed the pace,” Koll said. “That being said it’s always nerve wracking to be one mistake away from disaster.”
In one of the most exciting matches of the evening, Realbuto came through with a clutch third period takedown to top Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch, 3-2, in the 174 finals match.
“I felt good in the finals,” Realbuto said. “I knew it would be a close one like it was in the dual, but I just stayed composed and waited for my openings. I had a few chances to score, but I was ultimately able to get in on a good shot in the third to secure the takedown.”
Palacio also was involved in a low-scoring and close affair. The 157 pounder defeated Russell Parsons’s of Army with a score of 4-2. Honis also claimed a place on the podium with a hard-fought 3-1 win in sudden victory for third place.
Cornell did have its fair share of comfortable victories as well. Sandwiched between Palacio and Realbuto’s tight championship matches came a dominant performance from Womack. The first-time EIWA champion racked up 16 points and surrendered only one in his final match for a technical fall victory. A couple matches later, Dean followed suit with 24-9 tech fall win by taking down Navy’s Michael Coleman time after time.
“As a senior, winning another EIWA title as a team was extremely important,” Realbuto said. “It means a lot to keep our streak going especially in a year such as this where our rival Lehigh was expected to make it close. We really needed go above and I’m glad that we all stepped up to the challenge.”
On March 16, six Cornellians will travel to take on the nation’s best in a three-day showdown in Missouri.