Cornell wrestling made history in its opening dual for the 2019-2020 season — but not the type of history it was looking for. After winning nine straight season openers, the Red broke its almost decade-long winning streak and faltered against North Carolina State.
With a higher ranking and four duals already under its belt, No. 9 North Carolina State (4-0) had the odds in its favor. With several ranked players, including the top-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds, Hayden Hidlay, the Red (0-1) faced stiff competition to open the season.
“N.C. State is a great team, and they have a really strong lineup from top to bottom,” said junior Hunter Richard. “The first match is definitely an adjustment match, so it was a tough first match for sure to come out against a top-10 team.”
The team competed without some of their top-ranked wrestlers — Vito Arujau (125), Yianni Diakomihalis (141), Andrew Berreyesa (165) and Max Dean (184) — who are taking an Olympic redshirt year. Although the lineup underwent a transformation, the Red’s confidence as seasoned competitors was left unshaken.
“We lost some really key guys, but I wouldn’t say it affected our confidence,” Richard said. “We are a really deep team, a really confident team, and although those guys aren’t wrestling with us, we have guys who are really good and can step into the weight classes.”
Furthermore, wrestling without their biggest hitters will give the team the opportunity to further develop its depth.
“This year’s team has eight new starters so I’m not completely surprised that we had a less than impressive opening, but their absence is giving other wrestlers an opportunity to compete and improve,” head coach Rob Koll said. “It’s early in the season and I am confident this team will have a great deal of growth over the next four and a half months.”
Despite the 25-9 loss, the matches in the 149 lb., 165 lb., 184 lb. and 285 lb. weight classes came down to one-point margins. NC State capitalized on those slight margins to secure the takedowns and clinch the day’s victory.
No. 3 Ben Darmstadt was first to hit the mat against No. 12 Trent Hidlay. Returning from an injury last year, the sophomore made his debut in the 184 lb. weight class. After the second period, the competitors remained tied at 4-4. However, Darmstadt could not fend off a series of shots from Hidlay, who secured a 7-4 lead in the third period. Late in the third period, Darmstadt gained a point for riding time, but it was too little, too late, and he relinquished the match with a 7-5 final score.
Next to compete was freshman Jonathan Loew at 197 pounds. In his career-opening match as a member of the Red, Loew delivered. Loew skillfully defeated Wolfpack member Tyrie Houghton with a first period fall, which gave the Red a 6-3 lead.
In the heavyweight round, sophomore Brendan Furman faced an even battle against Deonte Wilson until the last seconds of the match, when he fell victim to a takedown by his opponent.
At 125 lbs., Dominic LaJoie tacked on four points from escapes, but he could not overcome the offensive domination of his opponent in an 8-4 loss. The Red lost the advantage of the dual, down 9-6.
Although the team entered the next set of matches at a deficit, the Red knew it could count on No. 6 Chas Tucker to regain the lead. The score remained deadlocked at 0-0 until the second period, when an escape by Tucker gave him a 1-0 edge. It was not until the end of the third period that Tucker clinched a takedown, which gave him the 3-1 lead. With 1:00 of riding time, Tucker was rewarded another point to secure the 4-1 individual victory.
The competition at 141 pounds was marked by staunch defense; senior Noah Baughman’s opponent scored the only offensive point of the match in a first period takedown. In the third period, Baugman couldn’t hold onto his offensive attempts, and No. 11 Tariq Wilson scored two additional points to take home the 4-0 win for the Wolfpack.
Richard fell to his opponent in a devastating one-point match in the 149 lb. weight class. With two escapes and a takedown from Richard and 4 escapes from his opponent A.J Leitten, the match was even at 4-4 in the third period. With less than two minutes left, Leitten scored two points from a takedown. Although Richard claimed one more point with an escape to close the score gap to one point, he was left without enough time to muster up any more points. His opponent triumphed, 6-5.
In the 165 weight class, Red wrestler Colton Yapoujian faced the nation’s top wrestler, NC State’s Hayden Hidlay. Into the second period, the score remained neutral. Hidlay, however, came out on top with an escape, followed by a takedown. With an additional point for riding time, the match ended at a score of 4-0.
Junior Adam Santaro suffered a decisive loss to Thomas Bullard. The offensive domination of his opponent shone through in the 9-0 match score.
To finish off the day, senior Brandon Womack clinched a third-period escape point to bring the score to 5-4, but he struggled to find a final-period takedown to give him the lead over No. 17 Daniel Bullard.
“We showed that we can battle. We lost, 25-9, but at 149, 165, 184 and 285 it was a one point match, and we lost at the last second,” Richard said. “So if those matches went our way, we would have won the dual. So even though we got beat, we are right there, and that gives us confidence going forward. It was the first dual and we are only going to get better going forward.”
It will be a season of growth and grit, but the team — replete with some of the nations top wrestlers — is up to the challenge. Cornell will travel to take on Ohio State next Sunday, where it will resume dual competition.