By Betsy Veysman
The winner of the ball draw wins a freestyle period more than 80% of the time, according to the announcers of this past weekend’s Olympic Trials.
When the draw doesn’t go his way, Kyle Dake believes he’s in that 20%.
“Kyle is so hard to score on, he’s not at as much of a disadvantage as most people in the clinch situation,” said Cornell assistant coach Jeremy Spates. “Watching him this weekend honestly made me feel a little better because I can never finish on him.”
“I’m pretty good at defending my leg,” Dake added. “I work on it a lot, even during the college season, just messing around with Frank Perrelli. I have pretty good balance and that seems to help in those situations.”
It definitely helped last year at the World Team Trials when Dake faced NCAA champion JP O’Connor in the first round. After splitting the first two periods, the Empire State grapplers ended the third scoreless, meaning the winner would be decided in the clinch.
O’Connor had the advantage, at least according to the statistics, when the ball picked out of the bag was his color, meaning he started the 30 second stanza holding one of Dake’s legs.
To capture the period, and the bout, O’Connor simply had to score. However, with Dake, that wasn’t so simple. Dake fought off the Harvard graduate’s attempts for the full 30 seconds, initially in a full split and for the last several seconds withstanding O’Connor’s throw attempts from a body lock.
This past Saturday at the Olympic Trials, Dake once again beat the odds (and almost did it twice) in his quarterfinal bout against third-seeded Nick Marable. After a scoreless first period, Marable won the ball draw, but Dake stymied the Sunkist Kids wrestler’s attack for 25 seconds before Marable broke through to take the period 1-0.
Dake got another chance after a 0-0 third stanza when Marable again got the advantageous starting position. This time, Dake not only warded off the former Missouri All-American’s scoring attempts, he also found a way to put a point on the board for himself, pushing his opponent out of bounds while hopping, to notch the 1-0 victory.
“Kyle pushed him all the way from the center of the mat while on one foot,” Spates said. “Marable’s a pretty strong kid. That was just impressive.”
“I was pretty upset after the first period when he scored with just a few seconds left,” Dake added. “In the third, I backhooked his leg and kept pushing him. In that position, if he didn’t go backwards, he was going to his back. It was a different situation that I found myself in, and it really worked out.”
While not in a clinch, the Saturday moment many wrestling fans were talking about also started from a compromising situation for Dake in a match with Hodge Trophy winner David Taylor.
Dake decisively took the first period, 5-0. In the second, Taylor hit a low single and looked to be in ideal shape to either push Dake out or get the takedown.
However, as he has done countless times in his Cornell career, Dake found a way to turn a precarious scenario to his advantage. While balancing on one leg, the Big Red grappler picked Taylor’s knee and drove him to the mat for a dramatic pin.
“I thought Kyle would win, but I didn’t think he’d do it in such dominating fashion,” Spates said of the highly anticipated meeting between NCAA champions. “Beforehand, I don’t think Kyle was any more excited than if he was wrestling anyone else. But afterwards, he was pretty excited that he had the chance to show what he could do. People were talking about that matchup quite a bit since NCAAs, and I think we were all kind of tired of hearing about it. It was nice to have it happen on the mat.”
Dake agreed, noting that he was excited to wrestle Taylor, but “wanted to do it on the front side, not in the consis.”
Dake found himself in the consolations after dropping a three-period bout to veteran freestyler Trent Paulson. He now hopes to get another chance against the Cyclone Wrestling Club grappler.
“I’d like to face him again,” Dake said. “He was really strong and has been on the senior level for a long time. He’s been thinking freestyle for a while and that’s where his techniques are. With a little more time to work and prepare, I feel like I could do better next time.”
A year ago, Dake was saying the same thing about Marable after dropping a bout against him in June of 2011.
“Kyle goes into every match with the mentality that he will beat whoever he wrestles,” Spates said. “When he loses a match, he says, ‘I don’t think I’ll lose to that guy ever again.’ Last year he lost to Marable at the World Team Trials. This weekend, he beat him twice – in three periods and then more convincingly the second time.”
That second victory earned Dake third place in the Challenge Tournament at 74 kg, a performance the fans seemed to appreciate.
“The funny thing is that people flock to [Dake],” Spates said. “Everyone wanted to congratulate him. He handles it great. He likes to interact with everyone. I told him we should throw a shirt over his head and walk him out like they do with the paparazzi.”
The attention on Dake won’t go away as he goes for his fourth national championship next season. And when his college days are over, he showed this weekend that he will be a force to reckon with on the freestyle scene.
According to Spates, Dake’s smooth transition to freestyle comes from the solid base he developed when he was younger as well as his combination of explosiveness and great defense.
But Dake’s ability and belief that he can win the tiebreaking clinch no matter what ball is pulled out of the bag is significant as well.
“Kyle’s just ‘game time’,” Spates said. “He likes those situations when his back is against the wall. A lot of people might be nervous when it all comes down to that clinch, but he’s not.”