Where should Cam Simaz go in the lineup?
That was a question the Cornell coaches were considering prior to the team’s opening dual meet in November of 2008 against Penn State.
According to assistant coach Damion Hahn, the Big Red wanted to fill the 184 and 197 slots with Justin Kerber and then-freshman Simaz, who both weighed about 185 pounds at the time. But they weren’t sure who should go where.
“Penn State’s 184 [Phil Bomberger] was ranked and he had a great double. He was built like a brick house, just as strong as can be,” Hahn said. “We came to the conclusion that Kerber could stop the double better. We knew Kerber could handle 197 because he’d done it the year before, but we were hoping if we put Cam there he could get his opponent so tired that he wouldn’t be able to stand up at the end.”
The plan worked as the Big Red won the bouts at both weights on the way to a 24-10 dual victory. Kerber defended well and scored a takedown of his own and Simaz had his Nittany Lion foe, Clay Steadman, gassed before picking up the second fall of his career. (He finished his career with 47 pins).
“It was a little lucky, but it turned out like we predicted it would. We looked like geniuses,” Hahn said. “We figured it worked and we stuck with it.”
Although underweight his entire rookie season, Simaz rode his athleticism and conditioning all the way to an All-American performance as an unseeded wrestler in St. Louis.
“During his freshman year, he finally hit 197 pounds during the NCAA tournament,” Hahn said. “It took him all year to get there. It’s never been about weight with him. He makes up for weight with his ability to wrestle hard the entire match.”
That constant movement and activity played a crucial role in his 100 career bonus point victories, a Cornell record. In his final three seasons with the Big Red, Simaz went 109-9 and just about always owned the third period.
On Saturday night at the Scottrade Center, Simaz fell behind Edinboro’s Chris Honeycutt in the championship bout 4-2, but came back to tie things up after two periods. Once again, the last two minutes were his.
“We knew the match would be won in the third and we felt very confident that Cam would be the one in control then,” Hahn said. “Honeycutt tried to muscle him early, but we thought all along that if Cam stuck to his plan and continued to keep the pace high and wear on him, the wheels would fall off the bus eventually. And they did.”
But it was much more than relentless pressure that helped the four-time All-American go from eighth as a freshman to champion as a senior.
“Cam has improved in every aspect of his wrestling,” Hahn said. “When he was a freshman, his defense was, for lack of a better word, horrendous. But he spent so much time working on baseline defense, defending leg attacks. No question it has paid off. He’s also come a long way on top. Over the years, his top wrestling became a strength. Those things have been huge difference makers for him.”
He’s been a huge difference maker for the Big Red and will continue next season as he will stay in Ithaca as part of the staff at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club.
“If I ever get to coach another kid like Cam, I will be lucky,” Hahn said. “When you tell Cam what to do, he goes out and does it. How many people can you count on like that? If you tell him to run through a brick wall, he’ll do it. Never a question, never a doubt. We’re lucky that we’re keeping him around here so he can train and help out.”
One of the primary beneficiaries of having Simaz in town next year is his roommate, training partner and fellow national champion Steve Bosak.
According to Hahn, the now two-time 184 pound All-American had the ability to stand on top of the NCAA podium in the past, but was missing one key ingredient.
“The biggest thing with Bosak is belief,” Hahn said. “As a freshman, he just didn’t believe until after his first trip to the national tournament. He got some pins, scored some bonus for us and made the Round of 12 that year. That sparked something and made him believe for the first time that he was good enough. We already knew he was extremely good.”
He made a leap his sophomore year with a 34-5 mark and his confidence from his fourth place finish in 2011 carried over into this season.
“Coming into this year, Steve began to understand that he is already winning any match he starts 2-0,” Hahn said. “He will get out on bottom and can ride anyone. He started to realize that he needed to avoid putting himself in bad positions and stay patient for the right opportunities on his feet. He’s so difficult to score on now. I’m telling you, I have a lot of trouble taking him down. He’s so good all around and he proved it this weekend.”
He also proved that he can battle through nagging injuries, as most wrestlers do. Most fans around the country were aware of the hamstring injury that sidelined Simaz for the month of December. But far fewer were aware of the shoulder trouble that Bosak endured for the second part of the campaign.
“The shoulder popped and was bothering him,” Hahn said. “He wore a shoulder brace for the whole second semester in the room and did a lot of rehab until the end of the season. We were able to keep it under wraps because he didn’t have to wear the brace when he competed. There were certain positions he couldn’t get into, but he dealt with it. I doubt too many people who saw the NCAA tournament could tell.”
Most people who saw the NCAA tournament were aware that Kyle Dake is the only wrestler in history to capture national titles at three different weights. The junior completed an undefeated season with five convincing victories in St. Louis.
“Kyle’s obviously a special one,” Hahn said. “When he wrestles, I don’t have a worry in the world. He’s not going to stop wrestling. To take him down you have to go hell and back. I never doubt him or consider that he’ll do anything but win.”
What can the Ithaca, NY native do next year for an encore?
“I would bet the farm on Kyle winning another national title,” Hahn said. “But I think he can do it in a way that’s even more dominant. He can separate himself more. He can open up more and throw everything at the guys he wrestles. I’ve wrestled with him and he does things that make you say ‘wow, how did he do that?’ Let’s face it, what he’s done so far is monumental.”
Hahn talked about one more accomplishment that he called “monumental” – having three champions from Cornell in the same season.
What do those three victors have in common, other than the top spot on the podium?
“They are all goofballs,” Hahn said, laughing. “They like to goof around and make fun of each other. Steve is always talking and he’s really funny. With Cam, you just don’t know what he’ll say, he’s full of surprises.”
“They’re also all great people,” Hahn continued. “They’re a pleasure to work with and be around. I’m glad we have all three of them still in Ithaca next year.”
With Dake and Bosak back to defend their titles and many other talented returners, next year promises to be special. But for now, the three champions are enjoying what they and the team accomplished on Saturday in St. Louis, a time head coach Rob Koll calls “the greatest night in Cornell wrestling history.”