The atmosphere was electric at the newly renovated Friedman Center on Saturday when Cornell wrestling kicked off its season against the Stanford Cardinal.
The Red had not played competitively since March 7, 2020, when it posted a 4-1 Ivy League record and went 11-7 overall before the season was shut down due to COVID-19. Hungry to compete once again, the Red entered this season ranked 12th in the country, while the Cardinal were 23rd.
As excited as the players were to return to the mat, all eyes were on the coaching battle in this matchup. The Cardinal are led by Rob Koll, who had served as the head coach for Cornell since 1993, single-handedly building the program into a perennial powerhouse until his departure for Stanford this past offseason. Taking his place this season is Mike Grey ’11, who previously served as an assistant coach on the team since 2013. As a student at Cornell, Grey posted a 117-30 career record and was named a two-time NCAA All-American.
As a coach, Grey served under Koll in his final years at Cornell, helping the team win eight Ivy League and six EIWA titles. Grey expressed his own and his team’s excitement about the opportunity to compete against his former mentor.
“I think our guys were excited to compete against Rob and succeed,” Grey said. “I know that there was a lot of intrigue behind it since Rob was coming back, so we were excited to compete and do the job.”
The enthusiasm was palpable both in the stands and on the mat. After the Red lost the initial 125 pound matchup 3-1, it took total control, winning the next eight weight classes until the final bout ended in an injury default.
At 133 pounds, sophomore Vito Arujau set the tone for the Red’s success. In a match that was not competitive from the start, Arujau ended with four takedowns, two reverses and almost four minutes of riding time, taking the battle convincingly by a score of 14-3.
The feature bout of the day came at 149 pounds, where two-time national champion Yianni Diakomihalis faced off against Stanford’s All-American Jaden Abas. The difference in the match came in an escape by Diakomihalis coupled with a technical point when Abas grabbed his shoelace. With the crowd roaring behind him, the junior started off his campaign for a third national title with a major 3-1 win.
However, the most unexpected outcome came at the 165 weight class, where freshman Julian Ramirez took on defending national champion and No. 1 ranked Shane Griffith. In a win that came down to the wire in the third period, Ramirez shocked the Cardinal and put the wrestling world on notice with a 3-2 victory. Ramirez took a 3-0 lead following a takedown and an escape, but Griffith countered with a two-point escape to begin the third period. Still, Ramirez held on defensively for the rest of the period, even surviving a challenge from Stanford regarding a “no takedown” call. After a review the decision was upheld, and Ramirez walked away with one of the biggest upsets in Cornell wrestling history.
Grey said he believes both Diakomihalis and Ramirez will be key parts of the team this season.
“Yianni is obviously our leader. He has done so much for us,” Grey said. “But a guy like Julian Ramirez who has a ton of talent but hasn’t been able to do it yet at the college level, he goes in there and beats a guy like Shane Griffith. That’s huge, that shows his development, and it shows the state of the program.”
The Red had one victory by fall at the 184 weight class. Junior Jonathan Loew took just 97 seconds to pin his opponent, netting the Red a quick six points. He was followed by a commanding victory in the 197 weight class by sophomore Jacob Cardenas, who had four takedowns en route to an 18-3 victory. The Red was in control against the Cardinal from start to finish, and took the overall matchup by a final score of 30-9.
The Red’s next opportunity to compete on the mat will come at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational Dec. 3-4. Grey plans on keeping up the team’s training, understanding that it is still early in the season.
“We’re gonna train hard and continue to work hard, and I think the big thing is we’re still super early on in the season,” Grey said. “We have big goals for this season, and I guess training wise we just have to think about where we want to be at the end of the year.”