For Dake, the goal is still gold
Cornell junior shooting for third title at a third different weight
As an 8-year old Kyle Dake dressed up as one of the members of the rock band KISS for Halloween. As a senior at Lansing High in Ithaca, N.Y., Dake was a self-described “demon leaf blower” for the same holiday.
“I always love Halloween,” Dake admitted. “I used to go out hours before everybody else to start trick or treating when I was a kid. And I love candy. I can always make room for candy.”
In the midst of his first semester of his junior year at Cornell, Dake stayed in for Halloween to play the video game Nazi Zombies which, for the uninitiated, demands massive survival skills and getting out of some dicey situations in a war-like environment.
During the past two seasons, Dake has gotten out of his fair share of dicey situations on the mat. Put simply, the Cornell grappler, already a two-time national champion, is as good defensively as anybody in the country. At the 2011 NCAA Championships in Philadelphia, Dake outscored his five opponents 32-1.
“Sometimes I can see guys getting frustrated,” Dake said. “When you feel like you’ve taken a good shot, feel like you are ready to score, and then you don’t, guys get frustrated with that. Some guys will keep attacking, which opens up my offense, but a lot of the time guys don’t want to do much. Sometimes there is not much you can do when guys don’t want to wrestle you.
"I get a bad rap sometimes but that's okay."
The "bad rap" is perhaps unwarranted. Twenty of his 31 victories a year ago included bonus points.
Entering the 2011-12 campaign -- Cornell officially kicks off the season Nov. 18 against Minnesota -- Dake has high expectations as usual, as he should after sporting a 65-4 career mark.
“If you have low expectations you will under-perform every time,” Dake said. “Too many guys listen to everybody else and believe they can't compete with certain guys. I never thought about any of that or listened to what people said when I was a freshman.
“You’ve got to go out and smash heads, wrestle hard and not listen to everybody else.”
The goals for 2011-12?
Dake wants an undefeated season, NCAA title No. 3 and the Hodge Trophy -- a good year by most standards. He also wants to add a spot on the United States Olympic freestyle squad set for London in 2012.
Jordan Burroughs accomplished the feat, finishing his career at Nebraska with an NCAA title last March and making the U.S. World Team. Burroughs capped his year with a World championship in Turkey in September. Dake, if he were to make the U.S. Team, would still have a year of collegiate eligibility remaining. Many collegians, including 2010 NCAA champion Andrew Howe of Wisconsin, are taking redshirt seasons for 2011-12 to train freestyle full-time.
"It was never a question," Dake said.
Only two athletes in the history of collegiate wrestling at the Division I level have won four individual national titles – Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith (1990-92, ‘94) and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson (1999-02).
As a freshman, Dake won 34 of 36 bouts at 141 pounds. His second title came at 149 pounds, completing a 31-2 season. The native of Ithaca, N.Y., will head to St. Louis next March in search of a third championship at a third different weight class. No wrestler at the Division I level has won three titles at three weights.
“There’s obviously a lot out there,” said Dake, who enters this season ranked No. 1 at 157 pounds. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be a fun year, but I can’t think about a lot of that stuff until later in the season.
“I really don’t think I have to change much as far as style goes. I’m never going to be a takedown artist like Jordan Oliver [at Oklahoma State] but I’ve been pretty good on the mat and just wrestled hard. I've just been taught to stay in good position, to work hard. There's nothing flashy about what I do."
Dake spent much of his summer working at wrestling clinics from California to Texas to New Jersey. Young athletes usually try and emulate national champions. The offseason, at least for Dake, is a chance to fine-tune many techniques.
“Every opportunity you get to teach you realize the small things you do,” Dake said. “When you break down a certain technique, slow it down when you are teaching someone, sometimes I benefit just as much. You find something in the process that improves something you might already be pretty good at.
“I like the teaching process. I could see myself as a coach. I know it’s going to be tough for me to get away from wrestling.”
An old familiar name is expected to return to the mat this season for Minnesota’s Gophers. Jake Deitchler, an Olympian in Greco-Roman in 2008, has never wrestled a varsity folkstyle match and could be in the lineup at 157 pounds when Cornell hosts UM on Nov. 18. Deitchler entered UM a year after the Olympics but has failed to suit up for a variety of reasons, including issues with concussions.
The possible Dake-Deitchler meeting could highlight one of the better early season dual meets.