At this point in the rankings, I’m really splitting hairs. All the remaining teams are so loaded with talent that I dread putting one ahead of another.
I won’t lie, I want Cornell to win its first national wrestling championship in March; I think it would really shake up the wrestling establishment as Cornell would only be the first private, non-big conference school to accomplish such a feat in modern times. Also, the Big Red’s head coach Rob Koll ought to win at least one national championship after what he has accomplished in his career, and these sorts of opportunities only come around once in a while.
[Note: in 1947, another school named Cornell, this one a tiny college in Iowa, actually won an NCAA championship in wrestling. I’m not going to devalue this amazing accomplishment by saying its age makes it meaningless, but, suffice it to say, the world is a very different place now. Fascinatingly, the outstanding wrestler at the 1947 NCAA tournament was Northern Iowa’s (which I think was then known as Iowa Teacher’s College) Bill Koll, the father of Cornell University’s (the one in Ithaca NY) current head coach, Rob Koll. Oh what a tangled web wrestling weaves.]
Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, I placed Cornell in my number 3 slot. I like what this team brings to the table, and I love the way they wrestle, but they aren’t as reliable as Minnesota, and not quite as sexy as Ohio State. However, if things go Cornell’s way in March, the Ivy League school could realistically crown three national champions. 125 pound junior Nashon Garrett returns after a national runner-up performance in 2014, and really only Illinois’ Jesse Delgado stands in his way. While Delgado is one hell of a tough wrestler, Garrett has certainly proven to have what it takes to beat the Illini’s defending national champ.
Along with Garret, super sophomores Brian Realbuto and Gabe Dean return, at 157 and 184 pounds respectively, after finishing in 3rd at last season’s national championship. Realbuto will likely land somewhere in the nation’s top four at the end of the season, and I picked Dean to claim the national championship at his weight.
Following its group of superstars, Cornell features a bunch of intriguing wrestlers who have shown the potential to finish as NCAA All Americans, but have yet to turn the corner. 141 pounder Mark Grey, 149 pounder Chris Villalonga, 165 pounder Dylan Palacios and 197 pounder Jace Bennett all start this season ranked in the nation’s top twelve in a number of publications. That means that Cornell has seven very strong All-American candidates in its lineup, and if all seven succeed, I don’t see any way they wouldn’t win the team title.
Filling out Cornell’s lineup are Nick Arujau or Bricker Dixon at 133, and Jacob Aiken-Phillips at heavyweight. In one of his detailed team updates, Rob Koll has indicated that Arujau has been working hard and dedicated, which is major development, as he still is a major talent who has beaten All Americans. Finally, while I don’t think that Cornell’s heavyweight corps is bad, per se, I don’t see Aiken-Phillips or any other Big Red big man having the skills to score big points on the national stage in this year’s 285 pound weight class.
I almost forgot about Cornell’s 174 pounder-Virginia native Duke Pickett. I’m a big Pickett fan and have been for many the year. The Cornell junior is tough, brave and technical. While I think he’ll make it to this year’s national championships with little problem, I don’t see him winning more than one or two matches at the big show.
With the help of my friend Earl Smith at D1collegewrestling.net, we have a preliminary lineup for the Cornell wrestling team.
125-Nahshon Garrett (Jr) 2014 NCAA Runner-Up, 2013 NCAA 3rd Place
133- Nick Arujau (Sr) 2012 NCAA Qualifier
141- Mark Grey (So) 2014 NCAA Qualifier–Round of 12
*somewhere at 141 or 149 pounds, Cornell has blue chip, three time California state champ Alex Cisneros lurking. He’s a Charlie from Always Sunny in Philadelphia-class wild card
149-Chris Villalonga (Sr) 2014 NCAA Qualifier–Round of 12, 2013 NCAA Qualifier, 2012 NCAA Qualifier
157- Brian Realbuto (So) 2014 NCAA 3rd Place
165- Dylan Palacio (So) 2014 NCAA Qualifier–Round of 12
174- Duke Pickett (Jr)
184-Gabe Dean (So) 2014 NCAA 3rd Place
197-Jace Bennett (Sr) 2014 NCAA Qualifier, 2013 NCAA Qualifier
285-Jacob Aiken-Phillips (Sr)
The Big Red’s big three alone will score over 50 points. After that, it’s hard to imagine that the rest of the lineup won’t push Cornell to the upper 80s, and perhaps well over 100. This year, I think that any team total over 100 will prove very tough to top.
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