This post has been updated.
When you do something 11 years in a row, and especially if that something is at the highest caliber of your practice, expectations are inevitable.
That’s the case for Cornell wrestling, which, before last season, owned 11 consecutive EIWA team titles. But now, that streak has turned into one of finishing second-place two years in a row.
This past weekend at Binghamton, three Cornellians were crowned champions and three others finished as runner-ups to make six automatic NCAA qualifications while the Red had to watch Lehigh capture its second consecutive EIWA team championship, 153 to 139 in the team score.
The NCAA announced Tuesday that senior Jeramy Sweany (285) will be joining the six automatic qualifiers with an at-large bid to the national tournamnet.
“Can’t pretend to say we were thrilled with our performance,” said Head Coach Rob Koll. “Although six of our stars really shined, the guys we were hoping could wrestle over their heads weren’t able to do so.
“It’s hard to be upset with six finalists,” Koll added. “But we are greedy, and we expect more.”
Returning NCAA champion sophomore Yianni Diakomihalis (141), junior Chas Tucker (133) and sophomore Max Dean (184) all won their respective weights at the tournament — the first titles for the latter two — while freshman Vitali Arujau (125), senior Brandon Womack (174) and senior Ben Honis (197) all fell just one win short of the crown.
Disappointment ensued for the remaining four weights, as senior Jonathan Furnas (149), junior Adam Santoro (157), freshman Andrew Berreyesa (165) Sweany all fell short of an automatic bid to the NCAA championships, set to be held from March 21-23 in Pittsburgh. Only two of the four, Berreyesa and Sweany, finished in the top eight.
“We’ve had better depth in the past, and this year we had too many guys not place — almost half our team essentially not scoring points,” Koll said. “[But] at the end of the day, I’d rather have six great wrestlers going to nationals than 10 better than average wrestlers, because at the nationals if you’re not great you’re not doing anything anyway.”
As for the automatic bids, Koll said he is as confident as ever in the cohort of wrestlers the program is sending the NCAA championships, highlighted by the reigning national champion Diakomihalis — who earned the Coaches’ Trophy for most outstanding wrestler — and two fellow returning All-Americans in Dean and Womack.
“Those six guys are six guys who all can place,” Koll said. “And a good national championship makes an Easterns go away real quickly.”
Even for the wrestlers less proven on the national stage, all three inhabit the national top 10 rankings at their weight.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had six that are going to be seeded in the top 12 in the country,” Koll said. “It doesn’t win an Eastern tournament, but it can score a lot of points for a national championship.”
Both Diakomihalis and Tucker breezed to their titles, never being taken down in their path for first. The former, still undefeated on the season, moved to 3-0 lifetime against nationally-ranked No. 13 Nic Gil of Navy with an 8-2 win while the latter took down Josh Terao of American for his first title a year after settling for runner-up.
“This is the best Chas has wrestled probably his whole career,” Koll said. “He’s really been on a tear. He is certainly capable of not just placing but winning the national championship if he wrestles perfectly.”
Dean’s title, however, featured a harder-fought bout.
A year removed from a pin at the hands of Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch in the EIWA finals, Dean avenged the defeat with a 3-0 win that consisted of 1:54 of riding time by final buzzer.
“Gabe — I mean Max — knocked off someone who pinned him last year,” Koll said with a slip of the tongue, alluding to the elder Dean who was a four-time EIWA champion and is now an assistant coach for Cornell. And with Max’s first-place finish, someone with the name Dean has owned the 184 title five of the past six years.
For the three runner-ups, Koll was comforted by the wrestling he saw even if it didn’t earn them the title.
In the case of Arujau, the No. 1 seed entering the tournament, it was “one mistake and it cost him,” Koll said in reference to second-period four-point nearfall move by Princeton’s Pat Glory, a wrestler Arjuau beat by fall a month prior.
Womack, meanwhile, “had numerous opportunities to win the match against someone who he’s never been close against,” said Koll of the senior’s 3-1 loss to Jordan Kutler of Lehigh. And Honis, who upset his finals foe, Princeton’s Patrick Brucki, the same dual meet Aruaju pinned his, couldn’t get a late takedown to tie up a close bout and dropped an 8-6 decision.
As for the remaining three wrestlers, Furnas probably had the most realistic shot to “wrestle over his head” and earn an NCAA bid, but he lost a heartbreaker via sudden victory in the quarterfinals and “seemed to be recovering from that match and didn’t wrestle up to his ability,” in the ensuing consolation match, Koll said.
Santoro, who had an up-and-down season, “picked a bad weekend to be less than on,” Koll said, while the freshman Berreyesa “has some weaknesses that [need] to be addressed” but “we just think so highly of him,” the head coach added.
Regardless of the overall disappointment, Cornell now has two weeks to prepare for the holy grail of the sport: team and individual titles at PPG Paints Arena. Regardless if that number is six or seven, all the wrestlers Cornell sends to Pittsburgh feel they have a chance to at the very least contend for the crown. And regardless of the tough weekend, enthusiasm is at an all-time high.
“Good doesn’t cut it at the national championships, you have to be great,” Koll said. “Those six wrestlers we are sending all have the ability to be in the top eight, All-American level.”