New York Wrestling News will be providing a live blog of the Grapple at the Garden. The link is here.
Cornell started off the season with victories in its first four duals, including wins over ranked teams Oklahoma and Central Michigan while missing multiple starters, including NCAA champion Steve Bosak. This weekend will without question put the team to the test as the Big Red faces #7 Missouri at 11 a.m. and #2 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
#7 Missouri vs. #8 Cornell
While the Tigers don’t have any former All-Americans in their starting group, they offer a balanced lineup in which every starter has been ranked in the top 20 for at least a few weeks of the season. Both teams were at the Las Vegas Invitational a few weeks ago, where Missouri took second and the Big Red placed one spot behind in third.
“It’s hard to point to just a few key matches against Missouri, because there are big ones really all the way up and down the lineup,” Cornell assistant coach Jeremy Spates said. “We have to win a bunch of the toss ups and have our studs put up some bonus points.”
Let’s take a look at the dual.
Only two head-to-head matches between the teams took place in Nevada. One of those was a dominant 14-3 semifinal victory for Kyle Dake over Zach Toal at 165 pounds. The other was a 6-4 title bout win for Alan Waters over Nahshon Garrett at 125. Dake’s convincing win makes it difficult to imagine a different outcome this time around. However, the Garrett-Waters match was competitive and we’ll see how the ever-improving Big Red freshman adjusts to the mat wrestling of Waters. A reversal of that result would be less surprising.
“It was a really close match with some pretty close calls,” Spates said. “Nahshon likes the big stage; likes to put on a show. I’m excited to see them wrestle again.”
The Toss Ups/Battles of the Unranked Wrestlers
Chris Villalonga and Drake Houdashelt were on track to meet in the consolations at 149 pounds in Las Vegas. However, Justin Gonzalez upset the Tiger wrestler one round before they would have faced each other. Villalonga then defeated Gonzalez 11-0 on his path to sixth. Despite that podium finish for the Big Red wrestler, Houdashelt is the higher ranked wrestler by a few spots nationally. It appears to be a toss up match that will be pivotal in the dual.
Only two bouts feature a pair of unranked wrestlers, although Kyle Bradley (157) and Todd Porter (174) of Missouri were previously included in some Top 20 lists. Both Tigers would be favorites on paper against Cornell’s probable starters, Chris Dowdy and Duke Pickett. (For the full lineup from the Cornell website, see here).
The Rankings Favor Cornell . . .
Mike Nevinger looks to be back in form after a fourth place finish at the Cliff Keen at 141. At that same event, Missouri’s Nick Hucke went 0-2. However, Hucke had been in the top 20 prior to the Las Vegas tournament.
The Rankings Favor Missouri . . .
Nathan McCormick is off to a hot start, with a 13-1 record at 133 pounds. His only loss was to NCAA champion Logan Stieber. While McCormick is the favorite going into the match, Cornell’s Nick Arujau is ranked just a few spots lower in some of the national polls. Arujau missed the competition in Vegas, but in his last outing he pinned top 15 wrestler Cody Brewer of Oklahoma. If he wrestles that way, it will be an interesting bout.
At 197, Brent Haynes is consistently ranked in the nation’s top 15 while Jace Bennett has appeared in some polls. Their matchup could be a wild and unpredictable one with two wrestlers who pile up nearfall points and who have the ability to change a match quickly with their strong mat wrestling.
Dom Bradley is among the nation’s best heavyweights. Fresh off his victory at the Cliff Keen, he will be the clear favorite against Cornell’s Stryker Lane, although Lane has shown marked improvement this year, placing sixth in Vegas and beating some quality competition.
Mike Larson is ranked and has had a successful 14-2 year for the Tigers. He last faced a Cornell wrestler at the National Duals in January of 2011. At that event, in a tight quarterfinal dual, Steve Bosak earned a 15-0 technical fall over Larson, an outcome that secured crucial points in the Big Red’s slim 18-15 victory on the way to the team title. Larson is now #8 in the nation at 184 pounds and a favorite against Craig Scott.
Earlier in the week, Cornell head coach Rob Koll said he was ready to lean on freshmen like Dowdy and Scott as both have competed well for his squad thus far.
“They’ve wrestled in tough matches all year,” Koll said. “We aren’t going to rush anyone back and put them on the mat unless they’re healthy.”
#8 Cornell vs. #2 Oklahoma State
Many observers expected these two teams to meet in the National Duals finals in 2011, however, Oklahoma State was upset by Virginia Tech and the Big Red then defeated the Hokies for the title. On Sunday, the meeting between the squads will treat fans to a number of the nation’s top ranked grapplers, including a highly anticipated showdown at 165.
“Oklahoma State has a very tough team,” Spates said. “They have some of the best in the country in their lineup. We think there are a couple of swing matches that we’re focused on. We know they’re going to be tough to beat, but our guys will go out and wrestle hard and put it all out there.”
The ‘Big One’
During the summer, wrestling fans started getting excited about a potential superclass at 165 including Kyle Dake, David Taylor and Tyler Caldwell. Dake and Taylor met at the All-Star Dual with the Big Red wrestler coming out on top. And all three will be entered at the Southern Scuffle in early January. But the first folkstyle battle between Dake and Caldwell will take place on Sunday in perhaps the most highly anticipated individual match of the Grapple at the Garden. [Dake did previously top Caldwell in freestyle].
“It was a close match last time they wrestled,” Spates said. “[Caldwell] is a tough wrestler who is really hard to score on. I know Kyle’s pretty excited about the chance to wrestle him. We’re looking for Kyle to control the match and show why he’s the number one wrestler.”
The Rankings Favor Cornell . . .
In a meeting of freshmen, Nahshon Garrett will square off against Eddie Klimara, who was recently taken out of redshirt. Klimara’s first match was a 3-2 loss to Kyle Garcia of Oklahoma, a wrestler Garrett beat 12-4 at the Northeast Duals.
Mike Nevinger will likely take on Julian Feikert of the Cowboys, who registered a crucial pin over Nick Dardanes of Minnesota in Oklahoma State’s dual win over the Gophers and is 8-4 overall.
The Rankings Favor Oklahoma State . . .
A pair of wrestlers ranked first in the nation lead the way for the Cowboys — Jordan Oliver at 149 and Chris Perry at 174. Both have won all of their matches by bonus points thus far.
For Jace Bennett, Nick Arujau and Stryker Lane, the afternoon will offer a similar challenge to the Missouri dual. Lane will face his second top 5 opponent of the day when he meets up with Alan Gelogaev at heavyweight. Bennett and Arujau will also meet their second ranked foes of the day when they take on #7 Blake Rosholt and #7 Jon Morrison, respectively. While Rosholt and Morrison are favored, neither has been dominant in recent matches.
Two new faces in the Oklahoma State lineup have had quick success. Alex Dieringer has started his rookie year with nine straight victories at 157 pounds, while Chris Chionuma has solidified the 184-pound position with a 7-2 mark.
With two highly regarded opponents and several thousand people in the stands of a storied venue, the Big Red is looking forward to what Sunday has to offer.
“It’s pretty neat to be able to be in this event,” Spates said. “Originally, we thought there was a conflict with finals, but it’s great that it worked out for us to participate. I was actually looking at the different events that have been at the Garden over the years and it’s pretty crazy. Everything from heavyweight boxing to big Knicks games, and huge concerts. It’s amazing. And anytime you have a ton of fans like we’re expecting, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Please note: the dual times have changed to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., rather than the original schedule of 10:30 and 12:30.