Before wrestling a single match in a Cornell singlet, Duke Pickett captured an international tournament title on Saturday when he won the 74 kg/163 pound class at the Canada Cup in Ontario.
The Virginia native defeated Daniel Oliver of the Saskatoon Wrestling Club in the freestyle finals.
“Duke did a great job,” said Big Red assistant coach Mike Grey. “He just imposed his will on everyone. He hand fought hard and he’s such a grinder who wears guys out. His opponents didn’t want to hang with him.”
Pickett spent the last year working with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club after graduating from Woodberry Forest School. Grey said his progress has been clear.
“He has absolutely improved in every area,” the coach said. “He’s matured a lot in his wrestling but also in his demeanor. He’s always been a really hard worker, but now he’s working with more of a purpose, improving on specific areas. All his work is obviously showing with him winning an international tournament like this.”
Pickett, who Grey said will compete at 174 pounds next season as a freshman, wasn’t the only Cornell wrestler on top of the podium.
2012 Big Red graduate Frank Perrelli won the 55 kg weight, going undefeated in round robin action.
“[Perrelli] wrestled really well,” Grey said. “His leg attacks were completely on point. He’s been training really hard at the Olympic Training Center and it has really paid off. He seems like he’s getting better and more comfortable every time he goes out there.”
Grey believes that the ability to concentrate solely on freestyle is contributing significantly to Perrelli’s progress.
“Not having the transition between styles is huge,” Grey said. “Every year he made a lot of progress in freestyle after the college season and then transitioning back to folkstyle hurt a little bit. Now he’s completely focused and he’ll continue to make the gains that will put him in a position to make the World Team.”
Grey has watched Perrelli’s wrestling for a long time, as the two were high school teammates and have trained together for years. Some of their recent work together contributed to Grey’s return to the mat over the weekend.
The Cornell assistant hadn’t been in a competitive freestyle bout in over two years. In fact, he hadn’t been in any competitive match since the NCAA tournament in March of 2011. But, he laced up his shoes in Canada on Saturday.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” Grey said. “I was going to the tournament anyway to coach and I figured maybe I would wrestle too while I was there. It was a lot of fun. I was training a lot of the guys for the University Nationals and I wrestle with Frankie [Perrelli] a good amount, so I thought I had significant enough training to go out there.”
Apparently, he did. The New Jersey native went 4-1, taking third place at 60 kg/132 pounds, losing only to Cuba’s Olympic team member.
“When you’re coaching, you take a step back and see things a little better,” he said. “I thought I wrestled pretty well. I didn’t feel any pressure at all, I just enjoyed myself.”
In fact, there was only one part of the experience he didn’t enjoy too much.
“It wasn’t much fun to make weight again, but it actually wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said. “There was a 2 kg allowance, so I had somewhat of a cut, but not too bad.”
It’s something he just may do again.
“I’m focused on coaching, so I don’t know when I’ll wrestle next,” Grey said. “I definitely won’t be training full time, but I like winging it. I like spur of the moment decisions. One of these days, I might enter another tournament just for the fun of it.”
55 kg/121.25 lbs: Frank Perrelli (USA, Finger Lakes WC) over Aso Palani (Canada) *Round robin
60 kg/132 lbs: Alejandro Valdez (Cuba) over Yowly Bonne Rodriguez (Cuba)
Third: Mike Grey (USA, Finger Lakes WC)
66 kg/145.5 lbs: Haislan Garcia (Canada) over Kevin Iwasa-Madge (Guelph WC)
74 kg/163 lbs: Duke Pickett (USA, Finger Lakes WC) over Daniel Oliver (Saskatoon WC)
84 kg/185 lbs: Humberto Martinez (Cuba) over Yuriesky Torres Queralta (Cuba)
96 kg/211.5 lbs: Jake Varner (USA) over Manjot Sandhu (Canada)
120 kg/265.5 lbs: Les Sigman (USA) over Tony Nelson (USA)