Thankfully, while wrestling is a team sport, there are also opportunities to shine on an individual level. A team can be weak as an entity, but that does not necessarily mean that an individual wrestler cannot earn his way onto the podium at the conference, or even the national level.
It is perhaps those opportunities to do well individually that prompts wrestlers throughout the Ivy League to get out of bed on the day they take the mat against Cornell. After all, prior to last weekend, the Big Red had won 84 consecutive Ivy matches, and Cornell’s 16 consecutive Ivy League titles are the longest streak by any team in any sport in conference history.
The weekend matches against Brown and Harvard held extra significance as well, as head coach Rob Koll was one win shy of yet another milestone. Koll would not need win number 300 to cement his place as one of the sport’s preeminent mentors, but hey, round numbers like 300 can draw extra attention when recruiting.
There was not much drama, as the Big Red rolled over Brown by a 42-6 margin. The Bears, down 23-0, picked up a pin to elicit a glimmer of hope, but that hope was short-lived. According to Cornell’s website, the “Heavyweight Hammers,” Max Dean, Ben Honis and Jeramy Swany closed out the match with a pin, a major decision and an injury default, and the Bears went back into their dens to lick their wounds.
Harvard suffered an even more humiliating loss, as the Red steamrolled the Crimson by a merciless 50-0 margin. Chas Tucker needed an overtime takedown to seal his win, but the rest of the afternoon was devoid of drama, as Cornell won seven of the nine matches with bonus points. In describing the weekend’s matches, “domination” is too weak a word.
Koll is in his 25th season at the helm of the Big Red, and the 300 win plateau is just the latest accolade in a career full of them. I can’t say I know whether Rob has a trophy case, but if he does, it is bulging with Coach of the Year Awards (more than twenty National, EIWA, Ivy League awards, and counting), and his wrestlers are among the most decorated in recent NCAA history: 15 NCAA champs, 67 All-Americans, a World Champ (Kyle Dake, class of ’13) and four other wrestlers who have qualified for the Olympic Trials (Nahshon Garrett ’16, Mack Lewnes and Frank Perelli ’12 and Clint Wattenberg ’08). Cornell athletes are in any conversation about elite wrestling programs. Factor in the reality that the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships, and that the Big Red wrestlers carry an Ivy League academic load in addition to a world-class training regimen, and it is clear why the program is held in such lofty esteem throughout the wrestling world.
I asked Koll how much it meant to join the 300-win club, and he laughed and said, “Absolutely nothing!” He added, “It’s a product of lasting long enough to win a lot of dual meets, and the win streak and the winning percentage and the four All-Americans per year mean a lot more.”
The coach clarified that he is thankful for the fact that things have aligned in such a way that he has been able to maintain very high standards for a quarter century, but he offered, “I want to be remembered not by dual meet wins, but by how many championships our guys won.”
I also asked Rob if the Ivy League’s lack of athletic scholarships presented an ongoing challenge, and he stated, “We like to focus on what we have, not what we don’t have, and we find ways to have more to offer.” He’s right: the program has a rich legacy, an awesome-by-any-measure dedicated wrestling facility, alumni support, and fan support. He reminded me that “We just need to go out and get 10 great wrestlers every year, not 30.”
As is always the case, Cornell looks to have numerous wrestlers compete for individual national titles this year, and one of them, Yianni Diakomihalis, will be going for his second-consecutive trip to the top of the podium. The Big Red will host Lockhaven this Saturday at 1:00 pm.