New York Wrestling News caught up with Cornell assistant coach Damion Hahn for a few minutes to chat about the Big Red. Read on to see what he had to say about the team’s returning All-Americans, the incoming freshmen, Kyle Dake and more.
New York Wrestling News (NYWN): How has the summer been?
Damion Hahn (DH): There’s been a lot going on at Cornell. We have some change going on, which is a little sad when you’re talking about someone like Jeremy [Spates] leaving, but also really exciting. We’re really happy about the guys we had training this summer with our Regional Training Center program. Having one of them – Mark Grey – make the FILA Junior World Team – that was great news to have him representing our country. [Grey took fifth place for the second time at the World Championships]. Mark’s been working really hard and we’re looking forward to having him on the mat for the Big Red.
NYWN: Speaking of the Grey family, tell us about the coaching changes at Cornell with Jeremy Spates leaving to become the head coach at Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Mike Grey being promoted to full-time assistant?
DH: We’re excited to have Mike moving up. He’s done a great job for the past few years as the volunteer assistant and we’re happy to have him on the staff.
As far as Jeremy goes, it was tough to see him leave because he was a friend and also a roommate for a year – he lived with me and my wife for a while. It will be hard to replace the wealth of knowledge and experience he brought to the table, and some of the technique he brought, especially the top work, which was phenomenal. But I’m super excited for him to get this opportunity as the head coach at SIUE.
NYWN: You talked briefly about Mark Grey. He won the Edinboro Open, National Collegiate Open and Mat Town Open last year, while Brian Realbuto, Alex Cisneros, Gabe Dean and Dylan Palacio also had success at various tournaments. Which of the freshmen do you expect to have a big impact this year?
DH: It’s hard right now for me to pinpoint who will have a breakout or standout year because I think we have a lot of guys that could do very well. First of all, they’re great kids who have their priorities in order. They came to Cornell not only to get a phenomenal education but also to win a national title – individually and also as a team. When you have great guys working hard together for a common goal, great things happen. It will be interesting to see who will break into the lineup.
I’ll try to address the guys you mentioned – Alex Cisneros is probably ideally a 141 pounder right now but could go 149. Brian Realbuto looks great at 157. Dylan Palacio is very tough and is part of a four-man race for 165 with Marshall Peppelman, Craig Eifert and Jesse Shanaman. I’m sure we could see one or more of those guys move up when things start shaking out. Gabe Dean did well last year and keeps improving. He just goes and goes and goes. He’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
NYWN: You mentioned some 165 competitors possibly moving up to challenge at 174. Who would they be competing with there?
DH: Duke Pickett is back and looking tough. He’s battling with Owen Scott. Owen missed last year after surgery but is very strong technically and has looked good.
NYWN: Like Owen Scott, another freshman we haven’t talked about yet, Steve Congenie, missed last year with injuries. What weight will he look to wrestle this year?
DH: Congenie is a 197 pounder. He was a little bit of an under-the-radar recruit because he was hurt his senior year of high school. People might have forgotten about him, but he’s impressive.
NYWN: You talked about Owen Scott. At what weight do you expect his twin brother Craig?
DH: Craig’s probably a little over 225 pounds right now and will be a heavyweight. He’s been making some big gains.
NYWN: With a lot of younger guys potentially in the mix, what are your expectations for the team?
DH: I think when you lose five national championships like we did with Kyle [Dake] and Steve [Bosak], you can’t just replace that. But I think with the guys we have returning and the guys we’re bringing in, we’ll have an exciting team. Last year we had a bunch of studs and this year, I think we’ll maybe have a more of a balanced team. We’ll have some fresh faces in the lineup, mixed with some familiar ones. There will be some battles and I feel that the guy who winds up representing every weight will be tough.
NYWN: Last year at this time you were excited about the freshman season of Nahshon Garrett. That obviously went well with an EIWA title and a third place finish at NCAAs. What are you looking for from his sophomore year?
DH: A national title is first and foremost for him. Last year, he had a great season. A lot of people said he had a great national tournament and didn’t realize that he was good for the entire season – he beat a bunch of top guys. Some people saw him as a dark horse in some sense. We knew he was special as soon as he came in. I told him last year, ‘We have Kyle Dake right now and he kind of overshadows a lot of other things, but you will be the face of Cornell wrestling later. You’re the sparkplug. You’re the first person people see step on the mat representing Cornell and you have to get this team going.’ He did a phenomenal job last year and I think he can win a national title this year. He’s that talented and he works incredibly hard.
NYWN: Your other returning All-American, Mike Nevinger, is a senior who has made the podium twice at 141. What do you expect from his senior year?
DH: Mike’s our workhorse. We have him projected at 141 again. You can never count him out. He loves the tough road – look at what he’s done at nationals. He’s a leader and he leads by example – people look to him for direction. The great thing about him is that it doesn’t matter what tournament, what match, what period it is. He’ll fight 100% and you know you’ll get everything he has every time he’s on the mat.
NYWN: A lot of the focus last year was on Kyle Dake. Will he be in Ithaca next year?
DH: Yes. He’ll be living in Ithaca and it will be great to have him here. He’s been amazing since day 1. I’ve told people all along, don’t ever count the kid out. He’s a fighter and he’s an athlete. Some of the things he does – people sit back and say how did he do that? He’s impressive in so many ways. I’ve never met anyone with the same mental toughness. It’s insane. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing; he feels he should and will win. Just having that mental edge is phenomenal. Everything he has done in his career so far is nothing short of amazing.
NYWN: What was his reaction to the World Team Trials finals against Jordan Burroughs? [Burroughs won in two matches].
In the first match he didn’t fare so well, obviously. He was beaten up pretty good. But that’s the great thing about Kyle. He can make an adjustment, just like that. He went out in the next match and took him to overtime. It was a totally different match. He has mat awareness, body control – you name it. He’s the complete package. He knows that he has a World and Olympic champion in his weight class that he has to beat to reach his goals. He expects to be able to do it. It will be fun to see how it’ll play out. I don’t ever count Kyle out.
NYWN: Anything else?
DH: We’re looking forward to all the young talent we have coming in from last year’s class and seeing how all the other guys progress. We may be a little more under the radar going into the season, but I think it’s going to be an exciting year for the Big Red.