No. 7 wrestling (1-0, 1-0 EIWA) turned back the clock on Saturday, Nov. 18, when it took to the mat against Sacred Heart (0-5, 0-1 EIWA) in Barton Hall, where the team last wrestled in 2003.
The legendary venue was decked out with countless mats for the weekend-long Finger Lakes National Duals youth wrestling tournament, meaning that when the teams lined up before the main event, the bleachers were packed with young wrestlers and their parents. The excitement was palpable as the next generation got set to watch a star-studded Cornell lineup begin its season.
The significance was not lost on the athletes, either. No. 22 freshman Meyer Shapiro, who made his highly anticipated Cornell dual meet debut on Saturday, was sure to note that wrestling in front of so many young fans made the meet extra meaningful.
“Seeing all the little kids cheering for me made me really appreciate who I was and who I represent,” Shapiro said. “Having young kids look up to me inspired my wrestling to be more creative and to show the kids that wrestling is fun, and shouldn’t be looked at as something with immense pressure.”
This emphasis on creativity did not prevent Shapiro from being effective, though, as he cruised through his match on a day where the Red’s wrestlers largely outclassed their opponents across the lineup.
The day started out rather prophetically with a forfeit at 125 pounds, as No. 10 sophomore Brett Ungar suited up but did not have an opponent, giving Cornell an immediate 6-0 lead. Sacred Heart struck back at 133, when Andrew Fallon defeated freshman Ethan Qureshi, 8-7. This win gave the Pioneers its only three points of the night in a weight class that Cornell usually dominates behind the strength of No. 2 senior Vito Arujau, who missed out due to injury.
After the setback at 133, though, it was all Cornell. No. 13 sophomore Vince Cornella only needed slightly more than a minute to pin his opponent at 141, before junior Ethan Fernandez’s major decision victory at 149 gave Cornell a 16-3 lead.
Shapiro’s match was next, and the U20 World Champion dismantled his opponent, appearing extremely calm as he picked up a second round technical fall. For the ever confident Shapiro, the match was just a step on the path towards his aspirations for the season.
“My goal this year is to win the NCAA tournament as a true freshman,” Shapiro said. “I also plan to beat everyone at my weight and have a dominant year at the weight of 157.”
In such a physical sport, freshman National Champions are uncommon, but under the tutelage of the last Cornell athlete to achieve the feat as a freshman, Yianni Diakomihalis ’23, Shapiro, who was ranked as the number one recruit in his class by Intermat.com, has as good a chance as any. Diakomihalis was on the bench for Cornell throughout the meet, helping Shapiro and his teammates prepare for their matches.
Cornell continued in dominant fashion through the rest of the meet, as No. 7 junior Julian Ramirez pinned his opponent at 165 inside two minutes, before senior Benny Baker picked up an impressive second round technical fall at 174. Junior Chris Foca, currently ranked No. 2 in the 174 pound weight class but making his 184 pound debut against the Pioneers, got the quickest win of the night as he displayed his high octane “Foca Style” in a 47 second pin. Going into the last two matches of the night, the Red led, 38-3.
At the heavier weights, the Red kept up its pace. No. 6 senior Jacob Cardenas secured a technical fall early in the first round at 197, before No. 21 senior Lewis Fernandes marked his return from an injury that kept him out for the second half of last season with a technical fall of his own at heavyweight, and the Red came out 48-3 winners. It was a comprehensive victory that could prove important for team morale ahead of a long season.
Some of Cornell’s athletes will look to follow up their dominant victory at the Mat Town Open in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania on Sunday, Nov. 26. It will be an individual tournament and will take place across the entire day.