Empire State Battles: What to Watch For as Cornell Travels to Hofstra and Columbia

Last weekend, two New York teams faced each other in a dual for the first time in 2013, with Hofstra easing past Columbia, 23-9.

On Saturday, a few more Empire State battles will take place as Cornell visits Long Island and New York City for meetings with Hofstra at 1 p.m. and Columbia at 6.  The Big Red wrestlers defeated the Pride and Lions by a combined score of 52-21 in 2012 and would clinch their 11th consecutive Ivy League championship with a victory against Columbia.

With the season winding toward March and every match important for postseason seeding and qualification, here are some things we’ll be following throughout the day:

Cornell vs. Hofstra

Ranked Rematches

125: Big Red freshman Nahshon Garrett, now ranked sixth in the country, began to receive national attention back in November after his 13-9 victory over Hofstra All-American Steve Bonanno in the finals of the New York State Intercollegiates.

The Cornell 125-pounder has continued his stellar campaign, with a 29-3 overall mark.  Meanwhile, Bonnano has compiled a 13-7 record against a challenging slate in which he’s faced seven of the nation’s top 20.  He has been on a recent six-bout winning streak. Both wrestlers are threats to make the podium.  How similar will the rematch be to the first meeting?

141: Mike Nevinger and Luke Vaith have both been ranked in the top 10 at times during this campaign. Nevinger still sits at #10 and has looked very sharp at times, including during his run to the Southern Scuffle championship.  Last weekend, however, he dropped a pair of matches against ranked opponents.  Vaith has won five of his last six.  When they met in Ithaca in November, the Cornellian came away with a 1-0 decision. Who will take this one?

Other Postseason Implications

There are a number of weights that feature grapplers fighting for NCAA consideration, with 157, 174 and 285 certainly fitting into that category.

Shanaman, Photo by BV

157: Jesse Shanaman was 30th in the first Coaches’ Panel Rankings. (Those rankings, which include the top 33 in the country, are one of the key components of the NCAA tournament selection criteria).  The former Blair Academy standout will face the Pride’s Tyler Banks, who has recently returned from an injury. Banks is looking to state his case for postseason consideration, a process he began last Sunday when he earned his third straight win by edging Columbia’s Jake O’Hara, a returning qualifier who has spent some of the campaign in the top 20.

285: Both the Pride’s Paul Snyder and the Big Red’s Stryker Lane made the cut in the first Coaches’ Panel Rankings at #25 and #27, respectively.  Both have solid records, which would be bolstered with a victory in the dual meet.  The two squared off in Hempstead in 2011, with Lane taking a 4-0 decision.

174: Jermaine John has started to turn some heads with his recent performances for Hofstra.  He defeated Rider’s James Brundage, who was in the first Coaches’ Panel Rankings, in mid January, and proceeded to win his next five contests.  That included an 8-1 victory over Columbia’s Stephen West, a wrestler who not only was ranked in the top 20 for a portion of the campaign, but who defeated John 6-0 early in the season.  On the Big Red side, the starting nod has gone back and forth between Marshall Peppelman and Duke Pickett.  Peppelman manned the weight two weeks ago while Pickett took over last weekend and notched a major decision against Oregon State.  With the season winding down, one will look to take control and work his way into the postseason picture.  With John trying to do the same, it should be an intriguing match.

Cornell had representatives in the Coaches’ Panel Rankings in all but two weights – the previously discussed 174, and 133.  The latter should be of interest in the dual as Hofstra’s Jamie Franco, a 2012 NCAA qualifier, is looking for a return trip.  He was 8-11 at the end of December but has begun to pick things up, with three consecutive triumphs.  A year ago, he got his hand raised against Cornell and he’ll look to keep his winning streak alive.


Cornell vs. Columbia

Villalonga, Photo by BV

Cornell’s quest for an 11th straight Ivy title is a major story here.  But beyond that, we’re looking forward to perhaps the marquee match between Steve Santos and Chris Villalonga at 149.  The two split a pair of close bouts last year, with the Columbia wrestler winning 2-0 in the dual meet and Villalonga responding with a 4-3 decision in the third place bout at the EIWAs.

Santos went on to make the Round of 12 at the NCAAs and has continued on a hot streak that has him ranked eighth in the Coaches’ Panel Rankings (Villalonga is 15th). There will also be implications for EIWA seeding, as Santos currently sits first in the conference while Villalonga is third.

Santos is one of the captains of the Lions this year.  His fellow team leaders, 157 pounder Jake O’Hara and 174 pounder Stephen West will also wrestle compelling matches on Saturday.

O'Hara, Photo by BV

157: As mentioned above, O’Hara was upset against Hofstra and looks to get back on track against Shanaman, another wrestler coming off a tough loss (against Oregon State’s RJ Pena last Sunday).

174: West’s setback against Hofstra’s Jermaine John snapped a five-match winning streak, but the California native still has a 17-5 record for the year and is on track for his first trip to the NCAAs.  Earlier in the year, West topped Peppelman 6-1.  How will he fare against Cornell this time around?

197: In the finals of the New York State Intercollegiates, Jace Bennett dominated Nick Mills on the way to an 8-0 victory.  In a prior round of that tournament, Mills defeated Cornell’s Billy George, 5-3.  It will be interesting to see either of those rematches.  Bennett appeared in the first Coaches’ Panel Rankings in the 24th spot, but it was George who represented the Big Red at this weight last weekend against Penn and Oregon State.  (Bennett did take the mat, but at heavyweight).

And finally . . .

Fans haven’t seen much of Kyle Dake during the conference schedule this year as he has pinned all four opponents with only one match going past the first period.  No matter how long he’s on the mat on Saturday, it will be a treat for spectators to watch one of the best ever in the sport compete in his last Ivy League dual before gearing up for his run at a fourth NCAA championship.



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