After a 0-2 start for Cornell wrestling created some doubts over the Red’s prospects this season, much of these questions dissipated as the team clinched six major victories and relinquished three losses in the past three weeks against some of the nation’s staunchest competition.
A short winter break proved to be restorative for the Red (6-5, 1-0 Ivy League), which entered the South Beach Duals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with a renewed fire and drive. A promising win against South Dakota State (18-16) set the competitive tone of the tournament, blazing the way for three subsequent wins against Michigan State (20-16), Wyoming (28-9) and Missouri (19-18).
The Red clearly exhibited its grit against No. 19 Missouri, winning by a slim margin in a massive comeback. In the first six weights, senior Chas Tucker was the lone victor, maintaining his flawless personal record for the season; however, the team remained at an 18-3 deficit with just four weight classes remaining.
Senior Brandon Womack, freshman Jonathan Loew and sophomore Ben Darmstadt kickstarted the comeback with three individual victories. The result of the dual was placed in the hands of heavyweight Brendan Furman, who needed to clinch a major decision. Furman miraculously delivered a 14-6 performance, placing Cornell on the winning pedestal.
Competing without its three nationally-ranked Olympic redshirts, Cornell’s four straight wins granted the team the confidence that it lacked, pushing their once-lagging record to a winning 4-2 slant.
“We started off the season 0-2, but that was against some of the best teams in the nations,” said junior Hunter Richard. “As much as we realize that they are good teams, it’s hard being 0-2. So it was great to go down there and prove ourselves by getting four straight wins. It definitely got the team’s confidence back. Even with the three guys out this year, we went down to South Beach and showed that we are still a great team.”
Despite its prior success in the tournament, the Red’s momentum could not carry it to victory against Minnesota. It fell, 31-12, to end the otherwise successful series.
“The expectations this year were a bit different, so coming out of the South Beach Duals 4-1 with our only loss against Minnesota, a very tough team, I was very happy,” said head coach Rob Koll. “It wasn’t about the wins and losses — everyone wrestled extremely hard.”
In addition to losing the actual dual, the Red suffered another loss, one that will be felt more acutely and permanently. Senior starter Brandon Womack suffered an injury and will be out for the rest of the season.
“Brandon Womack is going to be out indefinitely,” Koll said. “He’s a captain and an All-American, and he has been one of our most consistent wrestlers, so it’s a big blow.”
After proving itself on a national stage, the Red’s competitive fire failed to fizzle out for its return to the Friedman Wrestling Center, where it split a pair of duals. Cornell surrendered a close 19-14 loss to No. 14 Lehigh, but took out its first Ivy League competitor as it earned a 27-12 victory over Columbia. The win against the Lions marked the Red’s 89th consecutive win against an Ivy League foe.
Lehigh earned a hard-fought victory, as the dual was decided by narrow defeats. Senior Chas Tucker, junior Hunter Richard, freshman Jonathan Loew and sophomore Ben Darmstadt clinched victories for the Red in the losing effort.
The high stakes of the Columbia dual rekindled the Red’s energy — it garnered a 27-12 win with a pair of bonus-point victories. The Red triumphed over the Lions in eight out of the 10 weight class events.
To continue its season duals, the Red traveled to the home of fellow EIWA competitor Rutgers, where it secured an 18-16 win against the No. 22 team. The Red wrestled without one of its key members in Darmstadt, who suffered an injury against the Lions. An early lead proved pivotal for the Red, allowing it to fend off a comeback by the Scarlet Knights.
“The guys are dropping like flies between the Olympic redshirts and the injuries,” Koll said. “This team is really depleted, so to come away with a victory over a pretty tough team made me really proud.”
Just two days later, the Red returned to Ithaca looking to repeat its previous dual’s success against No. 3 Virginia Tech. But even with the return of Olympic redshirt sophomore Andrew Berreyesa to the lineup, the seasoned Hokies proved to be an insurmountable competitor, defeating Cornell, 23-9.
Picking up wins in the matchup for the Red were Chas Tucker, Andrew Berreyesa and Hunter Richard. Richard’s win marked his fourth straight dual win, three of which he won with bonus points. Tucker boasts an immaculate 21-0 personal record for the season.
The past few weeks of wrestling have not only given the Red the chance to prove itself and display their competitive spirit and drive, but it has also given the team the confidence it needs to find success in the remaining duals of the season.
“There hasn’t been a single dual where we have been out of it,” Richard said. “The entire team wrestles hard, and at the beginning of the year, we were just losing those close matches. We just weren’t on the winning side of most of them, and that is starting to change for us now. We can compete against anyone.”
The Red will welcome Harvard and Brown to Ithaca on Saturday.