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.

'Gold and Nothing Else': Cornell's Mark Grey Ready to Battle for a Junior World Championship

After taking fifth place at the FILA Junior World Championships in 2011 at 55 kg/121 pounds, Mark Grey wasn’t able to vie for a spot on the United States squad a year ago. His graduation from Blair Academy fell on the same weekend as the World Team Trials.

However, at the end of June, the Cornell freshman had another opportunity to make his way back to the World Championships — and he took full advantage. A month after placing fourth in a loaded 60 kg/132 pound field at the FILA Juniors, Grey navigated a similarly brutal bracket to earn his second appearance on the World Team. Along the way, he topped a former World Team member, defeated a wrestler he considers to be family and avenged a loss from earlier in the spring. He will compete for the Red, White and Blue in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 17.

New York Wrestling News caught up with Grey as he prepared for the trip abroad.

New York Wrestling News (NYWN): What was the experience like in 2011 when you wrestled in the World Championships in Romania?

Mark Grey (MG): It was an awesome experience. It didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to because I didn’t go there to get fifth place. But I learned a lot from that one.

NYWN: What were some of the things you took away?

MG: The experience from being there at the Worlds was huge. I remember before my first match, how super nervous I was. Now, I’ve been there. I know what to expect. The Europeans go out and wrestle really loose. That’s what I plan to do. Just go out there relaxed. Keep moving my feet, get to my inside ties, start taking those shots.

NYWN: What’s next in your preparation?

MG: We have training camp in Cleveland. Then we fly to Sofia the 15th, I weigh in on the 16th and wrestle the 17th. So it’s right into wrestling. Last time, we went to Romania a week before and trained for four or five days and got acclimated to everything. This time, we get there and I get going right away.

NYWN: In order to make the World Team, you had to go through a difficult draw. What was your preparation like?

MG: It was a lot different from last time. I trained at Cornell, for about four weeks, mostly with my brother [Mike Grey, Cornell assistant coach]. We worked on getting technique down and getting my body where it needed be. I also spent time wrestling with Frankie Perrelli a couple times a week and got my cardio workouts in and wrestled live. I was really ready for the [Junior World Team Trials]. I was pretty confident coming in and I was actually happy that I didn’t get a bye to the finals because when that happens, you’re not ready to go right away and you sometimes get off to a slow start.

NYWN: At the Junior World Team Trials you started with 2012 World Team member Earl Hall [an 8-3 win], then beat your former Blair teammate Joey McKenna (who took third). Talk a little bit about those matches.

MG: I never wrestled Hall before. Last year he won the Trials. The match against [McKenna] was a little weird for me because he’s like my little brother and we know each other really well. I was really cautious. It was different than my other matches because I didn’t open up and I wasn’t dominant as I should have been. It was tough.

NYWN: In the finals, you faced Illinois redshirt freshman Zane Richards, who defeated you in straight periods at the FILA Juniors in the bronze medal match. What was different this time?

MG: The week or two before the tournament, Mike [Grey] really worked with me on beating him to the inside tie. At FILA Juniors, he completely killed me by beating me to the inside tie, pulling and wearing me down. This time, I got there and by the end of the periods, I was able to get my shots off. I was able to score late in both matches to win. It was a great game plan by my brother. On my feet, I kept focusing on moving, going for the full six minutes and leaving it all on the mat.

NYWN: You mentioned going the full six minutes. Do you like the new freestyle rules? Do you feel like they benefit you?

MG: I love the new rules. Conditioning is a factor now. And I like the cumulative scoring. In the past, you basically had a two-minute sprint. Now, you can slowly wear guys down. Even if you give up some takedowns, if you keep going after guys, wearing them down, shots start to open up.

NYWN: After you get back from Romania, it will be back to folkstyle. You spent the last year training with the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC) and competing in open tournaments. What did you get out of the experience?

MG: It was a really good year. I grew a lot as a wrestler and I also was able to learn a lot about Cornell and the team so I’ll be ready for this year as a freshman. I think the things I most improved on were the mental aspects and definitely bottom. Bottom wrestling was a really hard transition at first, but I learned a lot and got a lot better there throughout the year. Wrestling with Frankie Perrelli helped me a lot too.

NYWN: You won titles at the National Collegiate Open, Mat Town Open and Edinboro Open and also placed at the Southern Scuffle, Binghamton Open and Buffalo Invitational. What would you consider to be your biggest win?

MG: I would say beating [All-American] Ryan Mango in the finals of the National Collegiate Open (NCO). I went in with some good momentum, right after beating [Lehigh’s Mason] Beckman in the semis. That win lit a fire under me and I just had a lot of fun against Mango, winning in overtime. I had some good matches with Beckman too. We wrestled three times. He won the first time at the Binghamton Open but then I beat him at Edinboro and the NCO. He also beat me in high school. It’s a good rivalry.

NYWN: You weren’t the only incoming freshman to have a successful year with the FLWC. Do you expect the incoming freshmen to be big contributors for the Big Red this year? What are your expectations for the team?

MG: I think we’ll surprise people this year. People may think we’re pretty young and inexperienced, but it’s going to be good from the start. I expect us to wrestle like we’ve been there before. We have a good mix of freshmen coming in and veteran guys. I’m excited to have great wrestlers like Nahshon [Garrett] and [Mike] Nevinger around me in the lineup. I think we’ll get some huge points rolling right off the bat. The future is very bright. I think the sky’s the limit and I believe we will win a team national title in the next few years.

NYWN: Anything else?

MG: I’m ready to go get that gold. That’s what I’m going to Bulgaria for – gold and nothing else.

Cornell Wrestling Announces the Promotion of Mike Grey to Full-Time Assistant Coach

Story courtesy of cornellbigred.com

ITHACA, N.Y. – After two seasons as a volunteer on the Cornell coaching staff, Mike Grey has been promoted to a full-time assistant coach it was announced today by Rob Koll, The David Dunlop ’59 Head Coach of Wrestling.

Grey, Photo by BV

In his two seasons as a volunteer assistant, Cornell posted a 25-5 dual meet record with two Ivy League titles, two EIWA team crowns and two top five NCAA team finishes. Big Red athletes won four NCAA titles, earned nine All-America honors, won six EIWA titles and captured seven first-team All-Ivy honors. The 2012 squad finished fourth at the NCAAs and featured three national champions, while the 2013 team was fifth overall and had four wrestlers finish in the top four of their weight class. Included was four-time national champion Kyle Dake, the 2013 Hodge Trophy winner.

Grey joined the Big Red as volunteer assistant coach in 2011 after helping the team to second-place finishes at the 2010 and 2011 NCAA championships as a student-athlete, the highest finishes in program history.

For the entire story, see this link.

Big Red's Perrelli and Pickett Capture Canada Cup Titles; Grey Takes Third in Return to Competition

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.”

Men’s Results

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)