The moment Cornell wrestling fans have all been waiting for has finally arrived.
After another action-packed day of wrestling, Cornell’s senior Gabe Dean is on to the championship bout Saturday night where he will look to become a three-time NCAA Champion at 184 pounds.
The two-time defending champ’s day two was far from routine, however. No. 1 Dean — still undefeated as a senior — looked unstoppable throughout the year, but was very nearly eliminated on Friday afternoon. Taking on No. 8 Jack Dechow of Old Dominion, Dean needed all three rounds, a sudden victory period and two rounds of rideouts to take down Dachow. A lone escape point in the second to last rideout gave Dean the scrappy victory.
“Dechow is a tough, tough competitor,” Dean said in an interview after the match. “[He’s] tough for me to wrestle, always has been. … He deserves to be there just as much as I do.”
With the victory, the Lowell, Mich., native also became Cornell’s winningest wrestler of all-time.
On Friday night, Dean took on Oklahoma State’s Nolan Boyd, and for the fourth straight time, Dean defeated Boyd, the fourth seeded wrestler. Unlike in his first match of the day, the senior returned to form and dominated this one to take it 9-3.
Now, just one more match separates Dean from defending his title and ending his illustrious time in a red singlet on top. It will come against Penn St.’s No. 2 Bo Nickal, and it is the matchup the wrestling world has been anticipating all season long. In fact, the match will be the final contest of the night, as the NCAA has decided it is worthy of main event status. Dean is the favorite, but Nickal has marched through his bracket in a fury, pinning his last two opponents early in the match and seeming unstoppable.
“As we all know he’s a great wrestler, he’s very dangerous,” Dean said. “As a senior, to have an opportunity to compete for your last title is really awesome. I’m just looking forward to the challenge that awaits me.”
The match will be available live on ESPN Saturday evening.
While Dean got most of the attention, three other Cornellians made a splash on day two. Senior Dylan Palacio matched up against No. 2 Michael Kemerer of Iowa. In what was perhaps the biggest upset of the day, Palacio took down Kemerer and pinned him to advance to the semifinals. The particularly passionate wrestler pumped his first toward the crowd and brought most of Scotttrade Center to its feet.
Just minutes later, teammate No. 2 Brian Realbuto did his best to follow suit. Realbuto continued to steamroll over anyone and everyone in his path, this time by pinning No. 10 Zac Brunson of Illinois just halfway through the first period. With the victories, both seniors advanced to the semis and earned all-American status.
“This is the most exciting tournament of the year. It’s great to be in this atmosphere and competing at this level,” Realbuto said.
Sophomore Brandon Womack also had a big day. With two consecutive upsets in the consolation bracket, Womack too earned his first All-American honors and will compete for seventh place Saturday.
Senior Mark Grey wrapped up his career for Cornell losing a 6-3 decision to Scotty Parker of Lehigh. The three time NCAA qualifier will leave the Red program with an 81-42 record across four years of service.
Sophomore Ben Honis’ season also came to an end in a 9-1 loss to Frank Mattiace of Penn. He amassed a 30-16 mark throughout his first full season, and a 1-2 record at his first NCAA appearance.
In the night session, only Dean was able to earn a spot in the finals, however. Palacio and Realbuto both led throughout almost the entirety of their matches, but neither could hold on. Palacio lost on a nearfall with just over ten seconds remaining in the third to No. 3 Joey Lavallee of Missouri, and in the ensuing match, the same script unfolded for Realbuto. In a rematch against No. 3 Bo Jordan of Ohio State — whom Realbuto beat in the National Duals back in February — Jordan used a six point move again in the final minute to crush the senior’s hopes of earning his first NCAA title.
After the day session, Cornell sat in fifth place in the team competition, but a tough evening pushed them out of the top five and into seventh. While the Red’s hopes of winning a team trophy have vanished, if Dean is able to beat Nickal, they certainly will not hang their heads.