To be the best, you have to prepare to win. And sophomore wrestler C.J. Cobb has become an expert at that.
After sustaining a season-ending LCL strain only eight bouts into a promising college career a season ago, Cobb was in an unfamiliar spot.
“That was the first time ever since I started wrestling that I took a whole season off,” he said. “I started when I was 5 years old, 15 years straight.”
Undeterred, he launched into preparations for this season with gusto. The 141-pounder even found a pair of unlikely training partners along the way.
“[Assistant] coach Valenti was training for the Olympics and he had one workout partner who was […] from Russia. And he’s third in the world,” Cobb said of Alex Karnitski, a former international top 10 grappler. “Coach Valenti is a two-time national champ, the other guy is in international competition. I just got exponentially better.”
Still, missing every meet was frustrating for the incredibly competitive Cobb. Luckily for him, though, coach Rob Eiter had some advice for the Williamstown, N.J., native.
“Sometimes being hurt actually helps you in the long run, because you have to learn a different way to wrestle,” Eiter recalled telling Cobb. “You actually get better at things that you do well but then you also improve on things you need to work on anyways.”
Entering this season, Cobb was flying under the radar. At the Binghamton Open, his first tournament since his injury, he lost a frustrating match to then-No. 8 Steven Keith of Harvard, and failed to place. Now, he had even more to prove.
But going into the Keystone Classic on Nov. 18, he was characteristically confident.
“I expected to win,” Cobb said. “That wasn’t just the optimistic goal. I really expected to win.”
The grappler certainly lived up to his own expectations. As a No. 5 seed, he went undefeated at the Palestra, even winning a shutout grudge match over Harvard’s Keith in the semifinals.
“When he beat the Harvard kid, the Harvard staff was a little surprised,” Eiter said.
Cobb followed his successful outing at the Keystone with a 10-2 major decision over Julian Feikert during the dual against No. 3 Oklahoma State.
Such an impressive start was an important first step in becoming one of the premier wrestlers in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) and getting league-wide recognition.
In the meantime, he’s earned plenty of praise from the Penn coaching staff. Eiter pointed to his determination, respect for opponents and ultra-competitive nature as defining characteristics that have helped Cobb become “a dynamite athlete.”
As for any young wrestler, though, Cobb still has work to do before being recognized as one of the best. After defeating Lehigh’s Anthony Salupo on Dec. 1, he lost the following day to Hofstra’s No. 10 Luke Vaith, 5-4.
“C.J. Cobb had a hell of a weekend for us,” Eiter said after the Hofstra dual. “Even though he lost, I think it was a good learning experience for him — things that we’ve been trying to get him to do in practice more he found out here that he needs to start doing.”
Despite the loss, Cobb was recognized last week for his convincing debut in his first appearance in the InterMat rankings. He’s currently ranked No. 16 in the 141-pound weight class.
After preparing to win for over a year, C.J. Cobb has earned his shot at top competition, and he’s ready for it.
“For seven minutes, I’ll take him against anybody,” Eiter said.
Sports Editor-elect Karl Bagherzadeh contributed reporting.