Aubrey Akers / Sun Staff Photographer

Cornell's lineup during the 2019-20 season will feature several new faces.

November 20, 2019

‘A Lot to Prove … And Not a Lot to Lose’: With Star Wrestlers Out to Train for Olympics, Cornell Still Has Sights Set on 18th Straight Ivy Title

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With four of Cornell’s best wrestlers redshirting to pursue their Olympic goals during the collegiate season, the Red’s 2019-2020 lineup is almost unrecognizable. Nevertheless, the powerhouse of a team is anxious to hit the mats and continue its consistent league and national domination.

As a team in the 2018-2019 season, Cornell put up a perfect 5-0 conference record and earned a 17th consecutive Ivy League championship. A 13-3 record in dual meets against the nation’s fiercest competition primed the Red for a second-place team finish in the EIWA tournament. The Red earned a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Tournament.

Junior Yianni Diakomihalis, a two-time national champion at 141 pounds, is one of four Cornellians taking the year off to train for the Olympics. With his absence, the 141 spot goes from the Red’s greatest strength to a major question mark.

Last year’s impressive results were by no means an aberration. Consistently one of the top programs in the nation, Cornell’s 17 straight league titles is the longest streak in any sport by any school in the Ivy League. In fact, entering the 2019-2020 season, the team has 88 straight Ivy wins under its belt.

On the national level, the team has competed in the NCAA tournament for decades, and the program has produced the third-most NCAA champions since 2003, trailing only Penn State and Oklahoma State.

Such team-level and individual-level success and consistency was spearheaded by head coach Rob Koll, a former NCAA champion himself. Over the last 30 years, Koll has brought the program to its current elite level. Along the way, he has won an impressive string of accolades, including being named the Ivy League Coach of the Year for the past five years.

Cornell wrestlers, both new and old members of the team, will fill the voids left by Vito Arujau at 125 pounds, Diakomihalis at 141 pounds, Andrew Berryessa at 165 pounds, and Max Dean at 184 pounds. The 125, 141, 149, 157, 165, 197 and heavy weight weight classes will be filled by wrestlers who were not in the lineup last year.

“Every year our goal is to win. We want to win the Ivys and the Eastern Conference and ultimately be in the top 10,” Koll said. “With four kids taking the year off to try to make the Olympics, it is certainly a lofty goal. But it will make it fun because you get new guys in there who have never started who will have the chance to show their wares.”

Three of the 10 spots on the starting lineup will be filled by previous starters and nationally-ranked wrestlers: senior Chas Tucker at 133 pounds, senior Brandon Womack at 174 and sophomore Ben Darmstadt at 184. Tucker recently represented the United States in Budapest, Hungary, where he competed in the U23 World Championships.

Despite the absence of three All-American wrestlers, such talent is a testament to the sheer strength of the program. Even with its unrecognizable lineup, the Red checks in as the 22nd-ranked team in InterMat’s preseason poll and at No. 18 in the NWCA Coaching poll.

“We will miss a lot of our big hitters — three of our All-Americans and one really solid guy — and obviously that shows in our preseason rankings,” senior Noah Baughman said. “It is definitely going to hurt us in a lot of ways, but it is also going to give us a lot of opportunities to show just how good and how much depth we have as a team. So I think we will see a lot of guys in the lineup this year that will definitely surprise a lot of people.”

Although Cornell’s season as a team has yet to commence, preseason preparations have been in full swing. Cornellians opened up individual competition last weekend at Binghamton University, where the fresh lineup showed off its skills in the 2019 Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. Army, Binghamton, Bucknell, Franklin & Marshall, Harvard, Lehigh and Lock Haven were all in attendance, along with their nationally-ranked wrestlers.

Even against some of the nation’s best, the Red’s preseason preparations evidently paid off, and the team displayed its depth of talent. Thirteen wrestlers placed in their respective weight classes at the open, with first-place titles from Baughman, junior Hunter Richard and freshman Colton Yapoujian.

“I think we wrestled pretty well at Binghamton,” Baughman said. “A lot of guys had some great performances — three first places, which is awesome. We also had a lot of performances from guys that show that they are right on the cusp and really close to doing great things. I think it showed how close we are to being a really good team this year.”

In addition to prior members of the team competing in the starting lineup for the first time, 10 new freshmen will have the chance to vie for a starting spot. Jonathon Fagen, Drew Flynn, Michah Hoffman, Jonathan Loew, Andrew Merola, Phillip Moomey, Ryan Moore, Nathan Thacker, JJ Wilson and Yapoujian, top high school recruits, were welcomed into the program for the 2019-2020 season.

“This will be the youngest team that I have had from what I can recall,” Koll said. “But they are really talented. We have high expectations for these guys as they do for themselves. So while I do not expect to be winning the national championships this year, we do expect to get some All-Americans and win the Ivy leagues — do the things we always do.”

Without a national champion in Diakomihalis and other key contributors, the 2019-20 season will be one of growth and development with a fresh lineup.

“This year the team has a lot to prove and gain, and not a lot to lose,” Baughman said.

The Red will put their new lineup to the test against NC State on Saturday. The team will hit the mat on 1 p.m. in Bartels.