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|Cornell seeking record-breaking seventh consecutive EIWA team title|
By John Harmon EIWA Newsletter
Cornell tied an all-time record a year ago when they won their sixth straight EIWA team title. That was the second time the Big Red had accomplished that feat, which was first done in 1912-17.
Odds are good that Rob Kollʼs men will set a new record this weekend.
Cornell is the third team in EIWA history to return two defending NCAA champions. Lehigh did it in 1966 (Mike Caruso and Billy Stuart) and 1976 (Mike Frick and Mike Lieberman). The Engineers would go on to overpower the opposition both times.
Thatʼs no guarantee, of course, but Kyle Dake (165) and Steve Bosak (184) figure to score a bundle of team points. While the Big Red are not as well balanced as they have been in recent years, they still project sufficient team points to win the title. They have also unveiled a new star in freshman Nahshon Garret, who will be the #1 seed at 125. In addition, junior Mike Nevinger, a finalist in 2012, appears to have turned a corner, and will be in a three-way race for the top at 141. A sixth contender is senior heavyweight Stryker Lane.
It appears there will be a spirited battle for second place among Navy, Rutgers, Penn and Lehigh.
Navy appears particularly impressive this year, as they have a strong, well-balanced team with only one questionable weight class. The Mids are led by freshman Mathew Miller, the probable top seed at 174. Miller made his initial splash early in the season, forcing 2012 finalist Oscar Huntley to move up to 197. Coach Bruce Burnett has six more wrestlers projected to finish in the top four, and it wouldnʼt take more than a couple of upsets to propel the Mids into contention for the title.
Rutgers has a senior-laden team, which should fare well in this tournament. Junior Vinny Dellefave will likely get the top seed at 133, but the Scarlet Knights have seven other wrestlers who will get seeded in the top six. Coach Scott Goodale returns senior Scott Winston, defending champion at 165, and he is down at 157 this season, But he is a bit banged up, so it is difficult to project where he might finish. The Scarlet Knights would like to have a strong finish before departing for the Big Ten next season.
The Penn Quakers have been in the background most of the season, but coach Rob Eiter has been quietly building a team which could challenge the leaders. Senior Micah Burak has three runnerup finishes at 197, and will be favored to stand at the top of the platform this year. Another senior, Former finalist Mark Rappo seems headed for the finals at 125, and sophomore C. J. Cobb will be in the threeway battle at 141.
What about Lehigh, who came close to Cornell in 2012? The Mountain Hawks have some studs, and project as many as four finalists. But coach Pat Santoro has some gaping lineup holes where few team points can be expected.
Senior Robert Hamlin will be looking for his third title at 184, and Shane Welsh returns to defend his title at 149. Junior Joey Napoli returns from a year off with a high national ranking, but will have to battle Harvard senior Walter Peppelman for the title at 157. Lehigh will be counting on lots of points from freshmen, including Randy Cruz, who might battle Dellefave for the title at 133. The secret weapon might be Max Wessell, who just won the starting position at heavyweight a in early February.
If anyone else can crack the Top Five, it would probably be Harvard. Like Lehigh, who they upset in a dual meet, the Crimson have some very strong weights, along with others from which few team points can be expected.
Senior Walter Peppelman is the team leader, and heʼll be the probable #1 seed at 157. Sophomore James Fox could make the finals at 197, along with senior Steven Keith at 141.
Here is a thumbnail sketch for each weight class.
While Garrett will be the obvious #1 seed, he is not the shoo-in that some are predicting. Rappo took him into the tiebreakers before losing by a single point. After the top two, this weight is fairly wide open, with Langel and David Terao of American likely to be challenged by Jeffrey Ott of Harvard and Billy Watterson of Brown.
As noted above, Dellefave will be the probable top seed, but in reality this is a wide open weight class. Cruz has lost by a single point to both Dellefave and Dixon, but either or both could end up in the finals. They will be pursued by Colton Rasche of Navy, Jordan Thome of Army and Paul Pettrov of Bucknell.
Look for a three-way race to the top here. In a classic round robin, Cobb beat Nevinger 7-3; Nevinger beat Keith 9-2 and Keith beat Cobb 11-4. So the coaches will have to sort out the seeding to see who gets the coveted #1 spot.
This is one of the toughest weight classes, with a returning finalist likely to draw only the #5 seed. With just one loss, Columbia senior Steve Santos clearly deserves the #1 seed, although he hasnʼt faced any of the other likely high seeds from the EIWA. Defending champion Welsh had a rocky start to his season, which included a loss to Lenzi of Penn. Daniel Young of Army returned to the lineup after an extended layoff and had a convincing win over Navyʼs Ray Borja.. Chris Villalonga and Borja both represent upside potential for Cornell and Navy, respectively.
This looks like a finals battle between Peppelman and Napoli. Peppelman is a returning finalist, while Napoli returns after a year off to grow into 157. They did not meet in the dual meet. Also battling for a spot in the finals will be Columbiaʼs Jake OʼHara, Navyʼs Bobby Barnhisel and Winston.
Dake appears to be well on the way to becoming the first four-time NCAA champion at four different weights in NCAA history. But his EIWA record is blotted by a loss to Kevin LeValley of Bucknell in overtime at 149 two years ago. Dake is one of the most prolific pinners in the country, and one of his victims was Corey Lear of Bucknell, his likely finals opponent. Peyton Walsh of Navy and Paul Hancock of Army will also challenge for the finals.
Miller has beaten both Greg Zannetti of Rutgers and Nate Brown of Lehigh, his chief challengers. He also has nine pins on the season. Columbia senior Stephen West is capable of pulling off an upset.
Hamlin is a two-time EIWA champion, while Bosak is the defending NCAA champion who has never won Easterns. This sets up a classic confrontation, which will have fans on the edge of their seats. Hamlin carries a 5-1 edge in head-to-head battles, but most of them have been extremely close. In the January dual, they had to go to overtime before Hamlin emerged the winner. Dan Rinaldi of Rutgers and Mason Bailey will likely lead the battle for third place.
As noted above, Burak will be heavily favored here. His likely opponent should be either Harvard sophomore James Fox or Navyʼs Oscar Huntley, who has made the jump all the way from 174, where he was a runnerup last season. Also in the running will be Brown sophomore Sterling Hecox and Army freshman Bryce Barnes. Jace Bennett provides upside potential for the Big Red.
This is another wide open weight class, with at least eight wrestlers clamoring for a spot in the finals. Lane appears likely to draw the #1 seed, but he was injured late in the season and his status is unknown at press time. Rutgers freshman Billy Smith is very active for a big man, and Americanʼs Blake Herrin and Navyʼs Danny Miller will challenge. Also in the running are Steven Graziano of Penn, and freshmen Joe Stolfi of Becknell, Max Wessell of Lehigh and Nicholas Gaijdzik of Harvard.