Six wrestlers took home individual EIWA titles last weekend, en route to a second straight team championship for No. 8 Cornell (12-3, 8-0 EIWA). It was the 27th title in the Red’s storied history and was one of its most impressive triumphs. The six individual titles are tied for the most in program history, in tournament runs that varied from the improbable to the seemingly inevitable.
The Red came into the tournament with five wrestlers holding number one seeds, and two — including three-time EIWA champion senior Yianni Diakomihalis — at number two. Each of these competitors had the ability to secure an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament by making the finals in their respective brackets, while also looking to win points for Cornell.
This duality of goals led to an interesting strategic dilemma for the grapplers. Some used the energy from their teammates’ victories to fuel their own game, while others, like No. 17 freshman Vince Cornella, argued that focusing on their own performances is the best way to achieve success.
“It’s obviously great to see your teammates doing well,” Cornella said. “However, I try to just focus on my own task at hand because that’s the best way I can help the team as a whole.”
This approach paid off, as Cornella rolled through the 141 pound bracket, winning his first three matches with pins, including a convincing win over No. 22 Matt Kazimir of Columbia, his main rival throughout the season. In the finals, Cornella squared off against Bucknell’s Carmen Ferrante, who had been on fire all tournament, and nearly secured a technical fall, ultimately taking home the title with a 13-3 major decision. This individual success certainly helped the team, with Cornella’s wins earning Cornell bonus points.
Diakomihalis, whose light regular season schedule bumped him down to the two seed, was dominant throughout the tournament. Demonstrating why he is often talked about as one of the greatest to ever compete for the Red, Diakomihalis won his opening match by a first round pin, before two straight technical falls to make the finals. Facing off against Bucknell’s Dylan Chappell, Diakomihalis cruised to a 15-3 major victory and his fourth conference title.
No. 3 senior Vito Arujau and No. 4 junior Chris Foca, who are both national title contenders, also showed off their talents. Arujau, who won last year’s EIWA title at 125 pounds, continued his strong season at 133 with two technical fall wins followed by two major decisions. Foca added a fall, technical fall and two decision wins on the way to the 174 pound championship.
While Diakomihalis, Arujau, Foca and Cornella were all seen as heavy favorites heading into the tournament, Cornell’s other two champions, No. 8 sophomore Julian Ramirez and No. 16 junior Jacob Cardenas, were more unexpected. Cardenas, the number two seed at 197, had an easy route to the finals, winning two major decisions and an 8-1 decision, before a marquee matchup versus No. 2 Michael Beard of Lehigh.
Cardenas fell behind early and trailed 7-5 leading into round three, but took control from there. After Cardenas closed the gap to one halfway through the third, a tiring Beard was penalized for stalling and backing out before Cardenas took him down with 20 seconds left to secure a 10-9 win and his first EIWA title.
Ramirez, who held the number one seed at 165 due to a head-to-head win over former national finalist Quincy Monday, had a tougher time with the early rounds than his teammates. After a pin in the round of 16, Ramirez took each of his next two matches 3-1, including an overtime win, to set up a much anticipated rematch with Monday.
After an even first two rounds, the score was tied 5-5 going into the third where Ramirez quickly earned an escape point to lead, 6-5. Ramirez was able to defend for the rest of the third, handing Monday his second loss of the year and taking home the title.
Despite the gravity of this win, Ramirez echoed a sentiment shared by many of his teammates: the upcoming national championships are the major goal.
“Honestly it’s nothing special, it’s just a stepping stone for nationals,” Ramirez said. “It felt like way more of an achievement because my whole team performed well.”
Cornell’s six conference champions and No. 21 freshman Brett Ungar, runner up at 125 pounds, take the mat next at the NCAA Championships from Thursday, March 16 to Saturday, March 18 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They can be watched on ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN+.