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Cornell's Troy Nickerson back on the mat, ready to make run at NCAA title
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Cornell's Troy Nickerson spent much of his summer trying to decide if he was going to bump up to 133 pounds or stay at 125 for the upcoming college season.

That was until he watched the Olympics.

Inspired by the gold-medal victory by American Henry Cejudo - a guy he grew up winning numerous national age-group tournaments with - Nickerson plans to return to 125 for his junior season.

Not only that, Nickerson plans to drop down to 55 kg/121 lbs. when he competes in freestyle after the college season.

"Henry's a year younger than me and we were always a weight class apart when we competed in the same events," Nickerson said. "He's a great competitor, and it didn't surprise me a bit to see him win the Olympics. I see myself being at a similar level - I have the same kind of aspirations. Seeing Henry win motivated me to get back down to 125. That's where I will be at my best."

Nickerson is back on the mat for his junior season after missing the 2007-08 campaign with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He suffered the injury last November and had surgery in December.

Nickerson, from Chenango Forks, N.Y., placed second at the 2006 NCAA Championships as a true freshman before finishing third in the 2007 NCAA meet.

"I was pretty eager to get back on the mat," he said. "It's been 18 months since I've been in a competitive match. It feels great to be back in the practice room and be healthy again."

Nickerson made an immediate splash in his first season with Cornell, storming all the way to the NCAA finals as a true freshman before falling to returning champion Joe Dubuque of Indiana in the finals.

Nickerson entered the 2007 NCAAs in Auburn Hills, Mich., as the No. 2 seed behind Sam Hazewinkel of Oklahoma. Nickerson suffered a 2-1 double-overtime loss to No. 6 seed Paul Donahoe of Nebraska in the semifinals. Donahoe went on to knock off Hazewinkel in the finals.

"I thought it was my tournament to win and I kind of blew it," Nickerson said. "I'm determined that this is going to be my year to get it done."

Nickerson said he wasn't at his best for the 2007 NCAAs.

"My back was bothering me and I wasn't 100 percent healthy," he said. "I wasn't able to train, get in shape and get my weight down right because of my back. I got myself in a close match and didn't do enough to win. I had a bunch of chances to score and I didn't take advantage of it against (Donahoe).

Nickerson was in attendance at the 2008 NCAAs in St. Louis when Indiana's Angel Escobedo won the title at 125. Nickerson beat Escobedo twice in the 2007 NCAA meet, in the quarterfinals and in the third-place match. Nickerson also has pinned Escobedo in a freestyle matchup.

Escobedo is back this season. Donahoe, now at Edinboro, also is back at 125. Donahoe placed third at the 2008 NCAA meet.

"It was definitely real hard to watch at the NCAAs," Nickerson said. "I really wanted to be out there."

Nickerson starts the season ranked second behind Escobedo, who is also a junior.

Nickerson, who is 58-5 in his college career, is part of a loaded Cornell team that could make a run at the NCAA team title this year. The Big Red will have six All-Americans in their lineup this season, including returning NCAA champion Jordan Leen at 157.

"Jordan is training harder than I've ever seen him train," Nickerson said. "He will have a target on his back, but he's really focused on having another great season."

Cornell also has All-Americans back in Mike Grey (141), Mack Lewnes (165), Steve Anceravage (174) and Josh Arnone (197).

"I see us right there competing with Iowa and Iowa State for the national title," Nickerson said. "We have four guys who are potential national champions, plus some other guys who could step in there and be All-Americans. It's pretty intense in our room right now. It's real competitive. We've developed a lot of depth, and we really push each other."

Nickerson has his hands full as a Division I athlete and a full-time student at Cornell, an Ivy League school.

He has a 3.0 grade-point average. He is a biology and society major with a concentration in human health and nutrition. He hopes to go on to medical school.

"It's very tough, trying to balance school and wrestling," he said. "A lot of nights after practice I will spend another four hours studying. We have a lot on our plate here."

Nickerson said he plans to compete in April's U.S. Nationals in freestyle. Nickerson was a two-time Junior Nationals champion and placed second in the 2006 Junior World Team Trials in freestyle.

"I believe I have the potential to compete in the Olympics someday," he said. "These next four years, it's time for me to get it done. I will put everything into it I can."

Before he focuses on freestyle, Nickerson has an NCAA title to win this March in St. Louis.

"Troy looks fantastic right now - he looks better than he ever has before," Cornell Coach Rob Koll said. "He's stronger, and technically he's the same old Troy. I would be really surprised if he doesn't step in right where he left off, plus a little bit more."

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