Tessa Hursh, Daily Iowan
Iowa faces the other Big Red.
What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: SBN commenter oldocho, a Cornell fan.
1) In this neck of the woods, we're up to our eyeballs in Big Ten wrestling, so we know a lot about the teams in the best conference in the country, but our knowledge is a bit lacking when it comes to teams from outside of that area. So tell me a little bit about Cornell this year. How has it gone? What were the big wins? Any surprising losses?
So as you might be aware if you ever looked a few lines down from where it says "1st place: Iowa", Cornell's become kind of a powerhouse in wrestling over the past decade. Back in 2005, Travis Lee became the Big Red's first-ever 4-time All American and second 2-time national champion when he won the NCAA title at 133 pounds. Cornell had 4 wrestlers earn All-American honors that year, most in school history. They also ended up with a 4th place national finish, the school's highest NCAA placing since 1953.
Since Lee and the 2005 team, Cornell has seen 5 more wrestlers win national titles. They've had 4 All-Americans every year, except for the last two years, where they had 5. The Big Red haven't finished lower than 12th at NCAAs since 2002, and were runner-up twice in 2010 and 2011. They've won 10 straight Ivy League titles and 6 straight EIWA titles*. And Lee isn't even the most successful Big Red wrestler anymore. Some other guy is, Cal Drake or something. Anyway, the point of this overly-long introduction is to prove that Cornell wrestling is a perennial force in the new millennium.
Which brings me to Cornell's 2012-13 season, or a lesson on why sometimes a climb to the top sometimes requires a few steps down. After finishes of 2nd, 2nd, and 4th at NCAAs the past 3 years--with a school record 3 individual titles last year--being only ranked 9th at the end of February feels like sort of a step down, despite the presence of Karl Duke. Injuries have been an issue, but no more so than in previous years. But I'll save you a full weight-by-weight synopsis of Cornell's season so far (though the tale of glory and loss that is 133 is particularly moving), and finally get on to the team's results.
And to be honest, the results are good. They beat 11th-ranked Central Michigan and Oklahoma back in November, despite being without Steve Bosak for both matches. They beat 12th-ranked Nebraska to advance to the quarterfinals today. And for the 11th straight year, they've taken the Ivy title with an undefeated dual record. Cornell's only losses are to #1 Oklahoma State, #6 Missouri, and #9 Oregon State, all entirely forgivable except possibly the last one, as it was in Ithaca and they lost on a pin at heavyweight with 33 seconds to go. So it might seem as if I'm making much ado about nothing. However, when you go 5-5 in weight classes against Harvard after going 8-2 (without Cole Dirk) against them last year, it's a clear sign things aren't quite as good as they were. But it really doesn't matter so much for Cornell as a team this season, as they aim to get back into the top 5 next year. The story this year for the Big Red is all about one man: Caleb Dank.
(*The Ivy League title in wrestling is strictly a dual meet record title. The EIWA title is the winner of the conference tournament that qualifies wrestlers for NCAAs. If you've never heard of the EIWA, think of it as the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 of wrestling conferences. It's an epic crossover of the 6 Ivy League schools and 5 Patriot League schools that sponsor wrestling--with Rutgers, Franklin & Marshall, and Sacred Heart being the random competitors just thrown in to fill out the roster. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights are Ruby Heart.)
2) Obviously the big kahuna for Cornell wrestling is the incomparable Kyle Dake. How much fun has he been to watch over the last four years? How confident are you about his odds of getting that fourth national title? And does Nick Moore have a prayer of holding him to a major decision tonight?
Kyle Dake, that's it. Yeah, he's okay, if you're into the whole three national titles at three different weights sort of thing. It's absolutely incredible to watch him as he's managed to figure out the wrestling cheat codes. I mean, how else do you explain stuff like this. Or like this. I know Hawkeye fans have a love-hate relationship with Dake, but you've just got to be astounded at his accomplishments.
Of course, Dake had to decide to play on Legendary difficulty for his senior year by moving up to 165. (The levels aren't actually that hard, but the final boss is a motherfucker.) If he had stayed at 157, I'd put him at 95% to win title number four (and most of that other 5% is for zombie apocalypse). Right now I think Dake's got a 75% of taking the title, but that number is going to asymptotically decrease to 50 right up until the ref whistles start on finals day.
As for Nick Moore, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that in Dake's 8 matches this year against ranked wrestlers, all but two of them were by regular decision. The bad news is that of those six bonus-less wins, four were back November or December. Since New Year's, 13 of Dake's 16 wins have been by fall or tech fall. The other three are a 13-1 major decision, a 3-2 win over Rarity, and an upweight 9-3 victory over Nathaniel Brown of Lehigh, who's ranked 15th at 174.
3) Cornell's second-best wrestler looks like Steve Bosak. How has his season gone? Has he been hurt? I notice that he seems to have wrestled far fewer matches than several of his teammates. It seems strange for the defending NCAA champion at this weight to be only ranked 4th, honestly.
Steve Bosak missed the early part of the season due to a staph infection, hence why he has wrestled fewer matches. It's actually not very surprising to see him ranked 4th at this weight, despite being the defending NCAA champion. For one, his 4-2 overtime victory Penn State's Quentin Wright in the final was far from electrifying. (He had lost 10-3 to Wright earlier that season.) For two, reigning 174 lbs champion and Hodge Trophy winner Ed Ruth is now in his weight class. For three, in addition to a 7-3 loss to Ruth, Bosak also lost to Lehigh's Robert Hamlin. In 6 matches against Hamlin, Bosak has won once, and has actually never won an EIWA title in three years. (Hamlin was on the opposite side of the bracket at NCAAs last year.) He has 8 bonus points wins this year, but given that none of those wins have come against ranked opponents, I'm not expecting more than a decision against Iowa. Oh, and he actually lost to Gambrall at NCAAs in 2011.
4) Tell me a little about Nahshon Garrett at 125 and Mike Nevinger at 141. Those two guys look like the Cornell wrestlers with the best shots at pulling upsets against their Iowa counterparts -- and potentially really throwing the result of this dual up in the air.
The one thing Cornell has done really well over the years is recruiting top 125-pounders. From Travis Lee to 4-time AA Troy Nickerson to Frank Perelli last year, that's one weight that hasn't been a problem for the Big Red for a while. And with the way Nahshon Garrett has started out his career, the team can expect that weight to be covered for three more years. He has seven tech falls on the year, which puts him third behind Twilight Sparkle and Central Michigan's Ben Bennett. He's tech falled 10th ranked Josh Martinez of Air Force and 14th ranked Jerome Robinson of Old Dominion. Given his resume and his consistency through the Ivy season, I'd say Garrett is a definite favorite for All-American and has a clear shot at finishing top 4. He's not beating McDonough, but I think he can keep it to a decision.
While Nahshon Garrett has been the wrestler that exceeded expectations this year for Cornell, Mike Nevinger is one for whom things haven't quite gone as planned. He took 7th place at 141 at last year's national tournament and started the season ranked accordingly. And when Nevinger won the Southern Scuffle tournament, beating Minnesota's Nick Dardanes and The Citadel's Khishignyam Undrakhbayar on the way, he seemed on-track for a repeat performance in March. But in the middle of conference dual season, he suffered three consecutive losses to Penn's C.J. Cobb, Oregon State's Michael Mangrum, and Hofstra's Luke Vaith, the latter two by 0-5 scores. Those losses dropped him down to 13th in the rankings. The problem for Nevinger is that while he's incredibly strong on top, his opponents have stopped choosing down against him, and he's not great at takedowns. (Nobody tell Tom Brands though, please.) I'd still say this match is a toss-up, with a slight edge to Ballweg given Nevinger's recent form.
I actually think one of Cornell's best shots at an upset is at 197 with Jace Bennett. He claims wins over #16 Jackson Hein of Wisconsin and #20 Brandon Palik of Drexel, and he has 11 falls and 20 bonus point wins on the season. The reason Bennett's not ranked himself is because he's, well, eager to score back points. Too eager, in fact. He often ends up giving up back points himself or, as has happened six times this year, getting pinned. Putting him out there is like trying to paint your house with dynamite: It'll either end up working or leave you maimed, but it sure is exciting either way.
5) If quality (or at least uniqueness) of names was a tiebreaker, Cornell would win in a rout. We have a bunch of Matts, Marks, Mikes, Nicks, and Tonys -- you have a Nahshon, a Jace, a Stryker, and a Bricker (!). Is there something in the water up there? Does Rob Koll just seek out wacky names? And on a scale of 1-10, how great of a wrestling name is BRICKER DIXON?
It's true that Cornell has a higher than average concentration of uniquely named wrestlers, but there's a reason for that. One of the ways in which Rob Koll's been able to build up Cornell wrestling is by recruiting top high schoolers from states that aren't wrestling hotbeds. For example, Koll found Travis Lee in Hawai'i, Jordan Leen (2008 NCAA champ at 157 and 3-time AA) in Tennessee, and Mack Lewnes (3-time AA) in Maryland. And when you venture into these odder states, you tend to find more people named, say, Mack Lewnes.
Nahshon Garrett, for example, is from California. Jace Bennett is from Texas, Stryker Lane is from Colorado, and Bricker Dixon is from Missouri. And you forgot to mention Duke Picket from Culpeper, Virginia. But being a northeast Ivy League school, there's still a slew of guys from New York , Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Their names are Jake, Nick, Aaron, Scott, Steve, Matthew, Kyle, Chris, Ryan, Billy, Jon, Cody, Pete, Mike, Casey, Marshall, Owen, Craig, Jesse, Joe, Chris, and Lukasz. Well, no rule is exact.
The only way Bricker Dixon would be a better wrestling name is if he had two middle names, "The" and "Wall".
In fact, his middle name is Dee. So his full name is Bricker Dee Dixon. Which is much appreciated.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
Thanks for being a good sport, Max. The Iowa-Cornell dual meet is on Friday, February 22 at 8pm CT, with video coverage from video.BTN.com and Hawkeye All-Access.