Catching Up on Cornell: Damion Hahn Talks About the Incoming Freshmen, Returning All-Americans and More

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?

Photo by BV

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.

Check Out Video Interviews With All Five All-Americans From NY Schools And More from the NCAAs

 
 
Check out video interviews with NY wrestlers at the NCAA tournament, including all five All-Americans from New York teams (Kyle Dake, Steve Bosak, Nahshon Garrett, Steve Santos and Mike Nevinger) and more.

 

Kyle Dake After Making History

 

Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett “Content But Not Satisfied” With Third Place at the NCAAs

 

Damion Hahn on Cornell’s Medal Round Performance at NCAAs

 

Steve Santos Takes Third at 149 For the Highest Columbia Finish Ever

 

Cornell’s Mike Nevinger Takes Fifth Place at NCAAs After a 9-2 Victory

 

Steve Bosak Finishes Off Three-Time All-American Career With Third at 184

 

Mike Nevinger – All-American Again After Five Straight Consolation Wins

 

Hofstra’s Jamie Franco – Two Straight in Overtime at the NCAAs

 

Hofstra’s Steve Bonanno After Upsetting #10 Seed in the First Round (Day 1)

 

Harvard 2012 All-American Steven Keith (Shoreham Wading River) After a First Round Pin (Day 1)

 

Photo by BV

 

 

"Making History and Moving On to Bigger and Better Things": Cornell Captures Seventh-Straight EIWA Title as Dake Named OW

 
 
Last year, the EIWA team championship wasn’t decided until the very last match, when American’s Ryan Flores topped Lehigh’s Zach Rey in overtime to clinch a 2.5 point victory for the Big Red over the Mountain Hawks.

This time, there was far less suspense. The Big Red led Navy by 17 points heading into the final session and finished 24.5 points ahead of the Midshipmen in the standings. In the process, Cornell became the first team to ever win seven consecutive EIWA crowns.

“We’re pretty happy with the weekend,” said head coach Rob Koll. “Seven in a row is better than six, that’s for sure. We lose two national champs next year [Kyle Dake and Steve Bosak], which will make it harder to get our eighth in row next year. But we return the other eight placewinners and that’s a pretty good start.”

Dake, Photo by Lindsey Mechalik

Leading the way for the Big Red were a trio of champions. Dake maintained his season-long dominance with a 20-5 technical fall against Columbia’s Josh Houldsworth after two pins and a major decision in his first three contests.

While it was Dake’s third EIWA title, it was the first conference crown for freshman Nahshon Garrett and 2012 NCAA champion Steve Bosak.

Garrett got the last session off to a good start for his team with a 6-1 decision over Mark Rappo of Penn in the 125-pound title bout. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year had defeated the Quaker in the tiebreakers earlier in the season.

“It was a great experience, wrestling here this weekend,” Garrett said. “I knew in the finals that he would do some of the things he did the last time we wrestled, like staying on a knee. I did better against it but I know there are still some things I need to work on.”

Right before his interview, Garrett was in charge of carrying the team hardware out of the arena and onto the team bus.

“That trophy is bigger than him,” Koll said, laughing. “Nahshon did well. But the truth is, it’s hard for me to be satisfied with Nahshon, because my expectations for him are just so high.”

The same could be said for Bosak, who took second the previous two seasons at this event, losing in the finals to Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin. The third consecutive EIWA title bout between Bosak and Hamlin didn’t happen as the Mountain Hawk grappler injury defaulted in the semifinals to Mason Bailey of Navy.

Bosak then defeated Bailey 7-1 to earn his spot atop the medal stand. The outcome not only earned a crown for the Big Red senior, but carried implications for the NCAA tournament.

“It was nice for Steve to get that title,” Koll said. “It’s no secret that we don’t want to see Ed Ruth [of Penn State] until the finals, if we can get there. So, we came in knowing that Hamlin needed to lose for that to happen. You don’t want to see medical forfeits at this time of year. I would have preferred that Steve beat Hamlin on the mat. But a loss is a loss. [Hamlin] was losing at the time of the forfeit and I think that will be reflected in the seedings.”

Several other Cornell wrestlers will be thinking about the seedings over the next few weeks as four more punched their tickets to Des Moines. Both Mike Nevinger (141) and Jace Bennett (197) grabbed third, while Chris Villalonga (149) and Stryker Lane (285) were fourth on the podium.

Nevinger lost a tight bout in the semifinals to Franklin & Marshall’s Ricky Durso, the eventual champion. He then fought back to bronze position with some late match heroics. On Saturday morning, he won in sudden victory over Lehigh’s Anthony Salupo and later on, he defeated Harvard’s Steven Keith 3-0 on the strength of an escape and takedown late in the match.

“Mike lost a tough one, but [Durso] is a really good kid who’s very funky,” Koll said. “[Nevinger] didn’t lose that match, Durso found a way to beat him. That happens sometimes. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again in Iowa.”

While Nevinger’s loss was in the semis, Bennett dropped his quarterfinal bout in the 197 bracket. However, he came storming back, with four consecutive wins, including a pin and a major.

“I’m really proud of the way Jace bounced back all the way to third,” Koll said. “He has made significant improvements this season despite his ups and downs. He’s a guy who is capable of doing some real damage at Nationals.”

Koll believes the same could be said for Villalonga and Lane. The 149-pounder sustained a deep cut over his eye, according to the coach and injury defaulted in the third place bout after winning 7-1 over Ken Theobold of Rutgers earlier in the day to secure his place in Des Moines.

Lane, who was hampered by injuries late in the season, responded to a quarterfinal loss on Friday to earn his first NCAA bid. The heavyweight won three straight in the consolations, including an exciting 8-7 tiebreaker victory over top seed Billy Smith of Rutgers. In that match, Smith had Lane on his back, close to a pin, before the Big Red wrestler fought back to tie the bout and send it overtime.

“Stryker’s a tough kid,” Koll said. “He may not be the biggest or the strongest or the fastest heavyweight in the country, but he has more heart than anyone. We get everything he has every time he goes out there. The good news is that he’s going to Nationals.”

Hoping to join Lane and the rest of Cornell’s qualifiers is 157-pounder Jesse Shanaman, who took sixth in heartbreaking fashion. He lost in sudden victory to Scott Winston of Rutgers in a bout that determined who would pick up the last EIWA automatic bid at that weight.

“There were a lot of positives this weekend and I know our team, alumni and fans are excited about the championship,” Koll said. “But it’s first our NCAA qualifier and I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get more than seven guys through to NCAAs. I really thought Jesse had back points at the end of his match against Winston. I think the only person who didn’t think so in the whole gym was the referee. We’re still hoping he’ll get a wildcard.”

Photo by Lindsey Mechalik

The Big Red earned several additional honors; or more accurately, Dake did. In addition to being named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler, he collected the Fletcher Award for most points scored in a career at EIWAs and the Sheridan Award for most falls in the least time. One honor that didn’t go Cornell’s way was EIWA Coach of the Year. And that didn’t sit well with assistant coach Damion Hahn.

“The EIWAs have been wrestled for over 100 years and in that time no team has ever won seven times in a row. What Rob [Koll] did with this team was make history and I think it’s a travesty that he didn’t receive recognition for it. Do you give the Outstanding Wrestler award to someone who almost wins? I have tremendous respect for Bruce Burnett, who is a great coach. Navy did a phenomenal job this weekend and the whole year. Hats off to them. But I think the EIWA coaches made the wrong call.”

Hahn also acknowledged, however, that his disappointment with that decision was one of few negatives over the two-day period for the Big Red.

“Everyone wrestled tough and it showed with all 10 of our guys placing,” Hahn said. “Some guys are disappointed in how they did, but for the most part, we can’t complain. We’re walking away with our seventh title in a row and we’re walking away virtually healthy. That’s a good weekend. Now, we’re on to bigger and better things.”

Cornell's Damion Hahn on 3 NCAA Champs, Next Year's Lineup and "Letting the Cat Out of the Bag"

Cornell assistant coach Damion Hahn stopped to talk about the Big Red’s three NCAA title winners and his thoughts on next year’s starting lineup, including where he sees returning champions Kyle Dake and Steve Bosak.