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The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials will take place this weekend, and once again, Kyle Dake, a Lansing native and four-time NCAA champ as a Cornell wrestler, will be in the thick of the action. Before we talk about Dake, here’s a bit more info on other Big Red wrestlers taking part. 

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The tournament was known as the “Last Chance” Olympic Qualifier, but to opponents of former Cornell wrestlers Gabe Dean (class of 2017) and Ben Honis (class of 2019), it likely felt like the “No Chance” tournament.  

The event was held in Fort Worth, Texas, and its purpose was to help fill out the list of wrestlers competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will also take place in Fort Worth. 

The Big Red will be well-represented at the Trials, as Dean and Honis will join Kyle Dake (class of 2013, 74 kg.), Nashon Garrett (class of 2016, 65 kg.), Yianni Diakomihalis (class of 2023, 65 kg.) and Vito Arujau (class of 2024, 57 kg.), who had already qualified. 

Cornell fans remember Dean as a beast on the mat, and his four opponents last weekend will no doubt agree with that description. Competing at 86 kg., Dean rolled over his first opponent 10-0, followed up with a 12-2 beat down, another shutout at 8-0, then wrapped it up by taking care of the #2 by a convincing 7-2 tally. 

Honis, at 97 kg., was also a wrecking ball, winning three matches by a combined total of 30-0, and winning on criteria in a 6-6 matchup. 

The trials were originally scheduled to be held at Penn State, but USA Wrestling announced that they would be moved “due to a variety of factors, including current COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and the desire to provide the ability to accommodate all of the participants, staff and fans.”

Dake, who won two World Titles at 79 kg., (which, unfortunately, is not an Olympic weight class), will compete at the Trials at 74 kg., where he will possibly face a familiar foe in Jordan Burroughs, the 2012 Gold medalist. In a recent pre-trials press conference, Dake was asked how he felt about the fact that several wrestlers (including him) have a bye to the semi-finals, and he said, “It’s a good setup. It’s nice in that I will have one fewer match to wrestle, and an extra night of rest to fully recover. It’s nice that a number of people get to sit out until the semis as proven performers.” He added, “I’m feeling good, ready to rock and roll.”  

One of the questions made me smile, given I started writing about Dake when he was a young teenager, and he is now a father of two. When asked this new set of circumstances, Kyle said, “The change is, I believe, for the better. I am learning how to find these little pockets of time to relax and sleep. It’s great to come home to those two little smiling faces, and to unwind. I’m always grateful for that opportunity.”

I saw Dake last week, and I brought up seeing him carrying his oldest daughter on his shoulders at the pumpkin farm. I said, “So, you’ll soon be getting doubled up on the riding time.” He grinned at the prospect.          

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I’d like to offer some recognition when it is due, and while he will likely see his gesture as no big deal, I extend my thanks to Ithaca High basketball coach Lester McNair. 

I have heard dozens of coaches say that they aim to help their student-athletes develop skills and habits that are as useful in life as they are on the court, diamond, pitch or whatever venue applies. 

I wrote about the Little Red’s abbreviated hoops season a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, I interviewed the coach, wrote the story, turned it in and looked forward to getting paid for it. When I stopped into the Ithaca Times office to pick up messages and check in with the editor, there was a card waiting for me. It said, “Thanks for writing about our team. We really appreciate the support,” and it was signed by each and every player on the roster. Given the season has passed, I am guessing it was no easy task to personally connect with each player, but Coach McNair is a guy that has been — since I met him 20-plus years ago when he was a player at Ithaca High — polite and gracious.  

I happen to believe that gratitude is an extremely important trait to plant and cultivate in young people, and I appreciate it when coaches put forth an effort to build character in their players.     

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