NCAA Wrestling: Cornell has the look of a contender again
Each week, NCAA.com brings you a DI wrestling notebook. Read on for news & notes from around the country.
Could Cornell challenge in March?
The dominance of Big Ten and Big 12 schools in wrestling at the Division I level is well-documented. Not since 1988, when Arizona State and Bobby Douglas hoisted the NCAA team trophy inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City has a team from outside those two conferences been kings. In fact, only Oklahoma State, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State have been champions since 1988.
A quick rundown of the current USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll shows the status quo with Missouri, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Cornell ranked 5-8. Is 2017 the year somebody breaks through? Most would say no, but after Cornell’s performance last Friday in a 23-19 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, there have been some rumblings.
Big Red head coach Rob Koll knows he has a good 2016-17 squad. But national championship good?
“We always have four or five guys who are going to do well at the national tournament, but to beat Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma State, teams like that, you have to have seven or eight,” said Koll after his team won four matches and were one third-period takedown at 197 pounds away from possibly pulling off the upset. “If we could get everybody healthy and on the mat at the same time, we can go with pretty much anybody, especially in duals. Every March we try and wrestle our best. There are some weight classes where we have some depth and a few things to figure out, but overall this team could do well [in March].”
Every March, Cornell wrestles better than most. For eight consecutive seasons, the Big Red have finished among the top 10 at the NCAA Championships. In 2010 and 2011, Koll’s team was runner-up. This season’s group, which will see Oklahoma State wrestlers again at the Southern Scuffle, (Jan. 1-2, in Chattanooga, Tenn.), is led by two-time national champion Gabe Dean and 2015 NCAA finalist Brian Realbuto, who beat OSU’s Kyle Crutchmer in a big match last Friday. Getting Dylan Palacio back at 157 pounds will be big; the All-American has not wrestled thus far this season. Dalton Macri (125) and Owen Scott (197) are expected back, but their replacements, freshman Noah Baughman and sophomore Ben Honis, have been good. Sophomore Brandon Womack is slowly rising up the ranks of 165 pounders. Veteran Mark Grey (133), with Will Koll (141) and Joey Galasso (149), make for a good, but not great, lineup. To win a national title, great is required these days.
RELATED: NCAA Wrestling Power Rankings
“These guys work hard in everything they do,” said Koll, a day after his team finished up difficult Ivy League final examinations and traveled to Oklahoma. “The level of commitment and discipline it takes in the classroom on a weekly basis is different than most places. Then, to commit their time to wrestling, all the things it takes to compete at this level, it’s tough. We continually bring in highly-motivated young men and do our best to develop them.”
Cornell has won 14 straight Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association titles with 2017 most likely a 15th. In St. Louis next March, expect the Big Red to be hanging around the top five again.
The kid is good
Penn State’s Mark Hall, a freshman and native of Apple Valley, Minn., was perhaps the nation’s top recruit last year. The 2016 Dave Schultz High School Excellence won six Minnesota state titles, going 277-4 with 171 consecutive victories and 189 pins. Hall won a FILA Cadet World championship in 2014 and got plenty of attention at the 2016 United States Olympic Trials last April. In September in France, Hall won a Junior World championship in freestyle.
Last weekend, at the Cleveland State Open, Hall, who appears to be redshirting in 2016-17, had three pins and a major decision of Rutgers’ Jordan Pagano in the 174-pound finals.
So is this freshman
Michigan State true freshman Drew Hughes won the 165-pound title at last Sunday’s Reno Tournament of Champions in impressive fashion, mainly from the top position. The Lowell, Ind., product outscored three opponents 50-0 – three technical falls – on his charge to the finals where, against Wyoming’s Branson Ashworth, he scored a takedown in the closing seconds of overtime for a 3-1 win. For his efforts, Hughes was named the Big Ten Wrestler of the Week, the first time a Spartan has earned the honor since Mike McClure in December 2012.
Speaking of Reno
With Penn State snowed in and Oklahoma State not sending starters, the Reno Tournament of Champions did not pack its usual punch in 2016. The Cowboys’ “B” team won the team title with Michigan State, Wyoming, Cal Poly, and Oregon State rounding out the top five. OSU’s Boo Lewallen (141), Jordan Rogers (174), and Derek White (197) each won championships with Lewallen, a redshirt-freshman, taking out Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith, an NCAA finalist in 2016. Meredith lost to Lewallen’s teammate, Dean Heil, in the 2016 NCAA title bout.
Wyoming and Oregon State each had a pair of champions, the Beavers crowning 125-pounder Ronnie Bresser, who is redshirting in 2016-17 after 65 varsity wins his first two campaigns. Wyoming pushed five to the finals, crowning Archie Colgan (157) and Cole Mendenhall (149); Drew Templeman lost an overtime decision to Stanford’s Connor Schram in the 133-pound final, while Ashworth fell to Michigan State’s Hughes. A former Wyoming Cowboy, Ben Stroh, was the champion at 184 pounds. Stroh suits up for NAIA Montana State-Northern.
- Carver-Hawkeye Arena, home to the Iowa Hawkeyes, annually draws the largest crowds for collegiate matches. The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for freestyle and Greco-Roman had rave reviews. In 2018, the arena will host the World Cup, April 21-22. The U.S. has hosted the event 30 times since its founding in 1973.
- The state of Alabama is not known for producing a lot of wrestling talent. But Cornell sophomore Brandon Womack, from Scottsboro, is a good one. Despite dropping a decision to Oklahoma veteran Clark Glass last Sunday, Womack, a 165-pounder, pinned Oklahoma State’s Chandler Rogers two days prior in Stillwater and is 18-4 heading into next weekend’s Southern Scuffle. In Alabama, Womack, a six-time state champion, won 422 matches with seven of those losses coming as a seventh grader. “He’s kind of under the radar,” said Cornell head coach Rob Koll. “Probably not anymore, though. He is a very talented kid and he’s just going to keep getting better.” Womack missed 2015-16 due to injury.
- Bakersfield first-year head coach Manny Rivera was honest about his team’s performance in Reno. With 125-pounder Sean Nickell winning four matches and heavyweight Dominic Balmer going 3-2 to lead the team, Rivera said “We wrestled flat, lacked focus. We have to make some improvements for the next time we compete.”
- Fifth-ranked Virginia Tech whipped West Virginia, 36-4, last Sunday. Tabbed the “Black Diamond Brawl” at Parkersburg High School in West Virginia it was anything but with Joe Wheeling’s major decision at 141 pounds the only win for the Mountaineers (0-5). The last two meetings between the two has seen the Hokies outscore WVU, 68-7.
- The Midlands Championships (Dec. 29-30) and Southern Scuffle (Jan. 1-2) highlight the post-holiday break schedule. Iowa has dominated the Midlands, winning four of the last five tournaments in Evanston, Ill. Penn State won six consecutive Scuffle trophies, but the Nittany Lions will not be in Chattanooga, Tenn. Oklahoma State, Missouri, Cornell, Lehigh, and Minnesota lead the field.