We always hear that Ivy League teams can’t compete with national powerhouses.
For a long time, the Cornell wrestling team has been an exception.
The Big Red (2-0) have won nine consecutive Ivy titles and have been the runner-up for the NCAA championship in each of the past two years. They seem headed down a similar path this year, as they are currently ranked fifth in the nation.
This Saturday will mark the beginning of Ivy League action for Penn. The Red and Blue (4-3) are facing their biggest rival, and this might very well be the most important dual meet of the year.
“[The coaches] really want us to step our game up this week,” freshman Steve Robertson said. “It’s going to be a close meet, every point is going to count. It’s always more fun to wrestle in these circumstances.”
The premier matchup this weekend will be at 197 pounds, where No. 9 Micah Burak will square off against the Big Red’s No. 1 Cam Simaz. They have wrestled against each other seven times, with Simaz winning each contest. But five of those matches, including the finals of the last two Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, have been decided by two points or less.
“They got a good long history there; they’re very competitive with each other,” coach Rob Eiter said. “But nobody remembers the six or seven times — they only remember the last time.”
For Eiter, the match will be a “conflict of styles.”
“Simaz is very active, wrestles in every position, his feet are always moving whether he’s doing something or not,” Eiter said. “Micah doesn’t take a lot of shots. [He] is more of a stalker. When the action is there they’re quick as cats, so it’s fun to watch.”
The other long-awaited match is at 141 pounds where Penn’s No. 12 Zach Kemmerer will face No. 15 Mike Nevinger, whom he beat, 4-2, in the final of this year’s Binghamton Open.
The pressure will also be on Penn’s freshmen. Robertson, Lorenzo Thomas at 165 pounds and Ian Korb at 174 pounds will be grappling against wrestlers they’ve already faced this year. Although they lost those matches, their coach is confident that they will fare better this time around.
“We want to make sure that they’re not going out with real big eyes. You always wrestle the guy in front of you,” Eiter said. “They’re a pretty easygoing group, so honestly I don’t think they’re getting too worked up over it.”
While preparing his wrestlers mentally is important for Eiter, he also has focused on readying them strategically — all according to his belief that every school has its own style.
“As a team, Cornell is really tough on top, so we’ve been working on making sure we get out right away from bottom,” Robertson said. “We just got to finish tough and hard on our feet because they’re also really good at scrambling and avoiding takedowns.”
“It should be a fun dual meet” Burak added. “I’m just going to wrestle hard on Saturday and do my best.”