Saturday was one of those days when one hopes that Cornell has enough parking attendants, vendors, ticket-takers and other support staff. There was a packed-house wrestling match at 1 p.m., the final football game of the season kicked off at 1:30 p.m., and the undefeated men’s hockey team would host Ivy League rival Princeton at 7 p.m.
As stated, Newman Arena was packed to watch the Big Red grapplers take on ninth-ranked North Carolina State, and while Cornell will always be an elite program and well worth the ticket price, the fact that four wrestlers (including two-time defending national champ Yianni Diakomihalis) are taking the year off as Olympic Trial redshirts is, predictably, impacting the season. After winning its last nine season opening dual matches, Cornell could not get past the Wolfpack. Among the highlights on the day was an electrifying pin by freshman Jonathan Loew and a 4-1 decision by senior Chas Tucker, but N.C. State won the rest of the matches. According to my spectating companion (former Lycoming grappler and passionate lifelong wrestling fan) Lee Wolfe, “It was a lot closer that the (25-9) score indicated,” and going forward, the Big Red will continue to adjust to the new normal of wrestling without four of its best athletes.
On a side note, congrats to Diakomihalis, who was honored at The White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Nov. 22 as part of the annual NCAA National Champions Day. Individual champions from the 2019 NCAA Wrestling Championships were in attendance, along with student-athletes from other sports.
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The Big Red football team did not pack the house, but those in attendance sure got their money’s worth.
Cornell came into the contest on a very high note, having knocked off previously unbeaten Dartmouth a week earlier. The win breathed life into a disappointing season, and set Cornell up for two more objectives, in that a win over visiting Columbia would enable the Big Red to retain the Empire State Bowl and finish in the upper division of the Ivy League’s final standings.
I settled into my seat in the press box just in time to watch senior Harold Coles take a handoff on the second play of Cornell’s first drive and sprint 58 yards to open the scoring. The Big Red would continue to put the hammer down by running up a 21-0 lead, and Coles would close out a great career by putting up 122 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. In doing so, he became just the eighth player in school history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards.
On defense, senior Jelani Taylor and freshman Jake Stebbins bolstered their cases for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Each had seven stops, Taylor had a pass breakup and Stebbins recovered an onsides kick.
It was a great way to end the season on a high note, as Cornell certainly saw its share of close losses this season. As always, this season put on display a continuous high-level effort by a very classy and hard-working collection of players and coaches.
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It was a good thing the parking lots had cleared out after the wrestling and football contests, because no matter their record (the fans are known, after all, as “The Lynah Faithful”), Cornell hockey dreaw a capacity crowd. The fact that the Big Red’s two victories last weekend brought the team to 8-0 is icing on the proverbial cake.
For the second night in a row, Cornell got off to a slow start, failing to score in the opening period, but a four-goal barrage in the second 20 minutes likely made the Tigers contemplate getting on the bus before the puck dropped for the third period. A balanced scoring attack bodes well for any team, and Cornell got five goals from five different players. Eight games do not a season make, but the 8-0 start is the first such record since the 1971-72 season.
After the game, Hhead coach Mike Shafer was quoted as saying, “It will be a grind throughout the whole season, but these guys have responded well every step of the way so far.”
On Saturday, the Big Red will take the ice against Boston University at Madison Square Garden.