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Cornell's Kyle Dake set to begin pursuit of historic fourth title at NCAA Championships

DES MOINES, Iowa – Cornell senior Kyle Dake is ready.

You can see it in his eyes.

You can hear it when he speaks.

And you can witness it when he steps on the mat.

“When the lights are the brightest,” Dake says matter-of-factly, “that’s when I think I perform the best.”

Dake’s performances certainly are proof of that.

The owner of NCAA titles at 141, 149 and 157 pounds, the Cornell standout is on the brink of arguably the most historic individual run in the 83-year history of the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

The only wrestler to win NCAA titles in three different weight classes, Dake is chasing an even loftier milestone as he seeks his fourth title in as many weight classes this year at 165.

The lights will be brighter than ever when he competes against the nation's best over the next three days at Wells Fargo Arena.

Dake faces enormous pressure in trying to become just the third wrestler in NCAA history to win four titles. He is looking to join Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson in that elite club.

Not only that, Dake likely will have to beat returning Hodge Trophy winner, NCAA champion and 2012 NCAA Championships Outstanding Wrestler David Taylor of Penn State to achieve history.

Dake is 3-0 against Taylor over the last 11 months, including two wins this season and one at last year’s Olympic Trials in freestyle wrestling.

Dake is 132-4 in his career, but hasn’t lost a college match since late in his sophomore year. He’s won the last 72 times he’s stepped on the mat wearing a Cornell singlet.

His most important numbers: the perfect 15-0 overall ledger in his three trips to the NCAA Championships.

Dake’s been virtually unbeatable at the NCAAs the last two years. In his 10 wins, he’s recorded three falls and defeated his other seven opponents by a combined 40-2 score.

“Kyle doesn’t get nervous like most people, he gets excited,” Cornell coach Rob Koll said. “When he has a big match coming up, he has a big grin on his face. That’s a gift.”

Dake is gifted athletically, but is also a technically sound wrestler who doesn’t make mistakes. He is strong defensively and is lethal in the top position.

“Kyle is a freak of nature,” Koll said. “He has all the physical tools. He’s flexible, he’s fast, he’s strong, and he has great balance. He has the mental tools as well. I have seen him lose and be devastated, and I can tell he hated losing more than he loves winning.”

Dake also excels in the classroom, balancing his time at an Ivy League school where the sociology major is an honor student and an Academic All-American.

“Kyle lives the perfect life,” Koll said. “He’s a great student and a great person who does everything right. He strives for excellence in whatever he does. He wants to be a four-time national champion, and he wants to be a World and Olympic champion.”

Part of Dake’s decision to bump up to 165 came when he was a training partner for the U.S. Olympic Team last summer. Jordan Burroughs, who went on to win an Olympic gold medal, encouraged Dake to move up and battle Taylor this season to put on a show between two of the sport’s best young stars.

Dake competes at 163 pounds in freestyle wrestling.

The NCAA has altered the finals schedule in anticipation of a Dake-Taylor showdown. The 165 finals will be the final bout of the evening on Saturday.

Taylor, who is seeded second behind Dake, was asked about not being considered the favorite at 165 in Des Moines.

“In my mind, I’m the favorite,” Taylor said after winning the Big Ten title. “I’m the returning 165 champ and I won the Hodge last year. I’m the best guy in my weight class, and I've just got to go out and do it.”

Dake and Taylor have been friends and training partners since they were young. But they also are fierce competitors when they face off on the mat.

“This is why you wrestle,” said Taylor, a junior who has placed second and first in this event. “You wrestle to wrestle the best guys. I've got the opportunity to wrestle a guy who is trying to do something nobody else has done. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

“It’s awesome. When you are kid, and you’re eight years old and want to watch wrestling, you want to watch the best guys wrestle. Kyle and I want to be remembered as the best college wrestler. This is the kind of match that determines what people are going to remember. I've got four matches before that, and I just have to do what I’ve been doing my whole life. I just have to wrestle hard.”

In their most recent meeting, Dake edged Taylor 3-2 in the Southern Scuffle finals on Jan. 2.

“David’s a great competitor,” Dake said. “We’ve had some great matches. I’m just going to go out and wrestle and have fun like I always do. I’m excited to have an opportunity to make history.”

So how much pressure is Dake feeling this week?

“There is nothing tangible about pressure,” Dake said earlier this season. “That’s one thing Coach Koll told me when I first came to Cornell. He said, ‘Tell me what pressure is’ and I couldn’t tell him. Then I said, ‘It’s something you put on yourself.’ He said, ‘Exactly.’ Why would you burden yourself with something that doesn’t exist? So instead of feeling pressure, I just go out and have fun.”

Dake embraces the challenge ahead of him.

“Everyone loves to win, but not everyone hates losing,” he said. “Losing is unacceptable for me. I want to dominate every time I step on the mat.”
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