Sophomore Ben Darmstadt, a breakout freshman All-American for Cornell wrestling last year , has suffered a pars fracture on his spine and will be out of commission for the 2018-19 season, according to Darmstadt and head coach Rob Koll.
Darmstadt told The Sun he fractured his L5 vertebrae during the course of the season last year and the recovery has not been fast enough to get him ready for the upcoming season.
“I wrestled with it. I didn’t know I had the fracture until after nationals,” said Darmstadt, who, finished sixth in his first go-around at NCAAs last season at 197. “I tried to take off some time this summer but I’m not ready to compete yet, for sure. So I’ve just got to let it heal.”
In the interim, senior Ben Honis will return to his old role as the starter at 197 and try to fill the large hole left by the impressive newcomer.
Koll and the program prefer to have Darmstadt take the season off rather than have him wrestle through what could prove to be a debilitating injury.
“We don’t want to rush him back too soon,” Koll said. “We want to make sure he’s 100 percent … We could rush him back this year and he could wrestle, albeit injured. And he would never be his full power, not as effective as he would be if we just give him a full year off and let it completely heal.”
Darmstadt said that he will seek a fifth year of eligibility down the road.
At the NCAA tournament in Cleveland last year, Darmstadt finished in sixth place at 197 after rolling to the semifinal match against then-No. 3 Jared Haught of Virginia Tech. The Hokie defeated Darmstadt, ranked No. 2 entering the tournament by fall, and the Cornell wrestler went on to lose the consolation semifinal and the fifth place match.
“I felt it pretty much every day in the practice room, I just thought it was back pain,” Darmstadt said. “There were definitely moments at nationals and just throughout the season where I had the fracture and it affected me.”
In his rookie season, Darmstadt went an impressive 34-4 including a perfect 14-0 in dual meet contests. He led the Red with 26 bonus-point victories and 18 wins by fall, the latter a school record for a freshman. The Ohio native also enjoyed a first-place finish at the EIWA championships in Hempstead, New York.
“What was so great about Ben was that not only would he win, you know, 95 or 99 percent of the time, but he would pin everybody,” Koll said. “He was one of the more exciting wrestlers not just on Cornell’s team but in the country.”
Koll added that Honis, who wrestled at 197 two seasons ago but spent much of last season at heavyweight after being displaced by Darmstadt, will return to his previous slot while Darmstadt is out.
“Not only do we have a good backup, we have what I consider a great one,” Koll said. “ is one of the very few weights that we could have someone get injured and put someone else in who I expect to be an All-American. That doesn’t happen very often at a place like Cornell, let alone at any place.”
Cornell’s 2017-18 season saw its streak of 11 consecutive EIWA team championships come to an end at the hands of Lehigh before showing strong at the national tournament with a seventh-place team finish and four All-Americans, including Darmstadt and national champion Yianni Diakomihalis at 141 pounds, who was also wrestling at nationals with a serious injury.
The Red’s 2018-19 season begins Nov. 16 with a dual meet at Binghamton.