In a season filled with injuries to key wrestlers and closely-decided matches, the Cornell wrestling team has made its way through the majority of the season with overall success. Now, it is full steam ahead for the Red with its eyes set on an 11th straight EIWA Championship in March.
Following the dual meet season, No. 9 Cornell came out with a 9-2 record, with losses coming only to No. 1 Oklahoma St. and No. 7 Missouri. The Red had a couple of close road victories, including a two-point victory over No. 14 Oklahoma and a one-point comeback victory over rival No. 7 Lehigh on the road.
“Like any year, we’ve experienced our fair share of ups and downs,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We could be undefeated at this point of the season, and we could just as easily have two more losses. Therefore, I’d say the season is going about as well as we expected.”
However, some of the Red’s brightest moments came during losses, Koll said, including when the team held a 13-6 lead halfway through the meet with a tough Oklahoma St. squad.
“Ironically, our best performance resulted in a close loss to Oklahoma St.,” Koll said. “All the guys wrestled well and we came within a couple seconds of a huge upset.”
Despite a comeback effort by a trio of top-three ranked wrestlers at the 141, 149 and 157 weight class for the Cowboys, freshman Brandon Womack (165) won by fall against his opponent in a match against a top-ten opponent.
Womack has been one of Cornell’s best young wrestlers, currently holding a 24-8 record with nine falls.
“Brandon Womack has enjoyed a tremendous freshman campaign,” Koll said. “He is currently ranked No. 12 and pinned the No. 4 ranked wrestler.”
Noah Baughman (125) — another young wrestler who has had a solid start to his collegiate career — also had a strong match against Oklahoma State, pinning No. 9 Nick Piccinnini. Baughman called the match his “best of the season so far.”
“The match was a lot of fun and seeing my coaches and teammates celebrate was a special moment for me,” Baughman said.
However, there have been some setbacks for the freshman. Despite a 15-6 record heading into the new year, Baughman struggled throughout January with five straight losses. He then came back with a few more wins at the end of the month, sitting at a 19-11 record, and hopes to end the season strong.
“I am looking to continuously make improvements and enjoy the great experiences I’ve been given,” Baughman said. “[I’m looking] forward to the end of the season and hope to end the year on a high note by qualifying for the national tournament.”
The strong performance and attitude of the Red’s less seasoned wrestlers has been integral for overcoming a diminished lineup.
Three-time NCAA qualifier and NCAA all-American Dylan Palacio (157) — who has a 75-17 career record — has only wrestled a few times this season beginning in mid-January. In addition, sophomore Joey Galasso (149), who has a 11-5 record on the season, has been in and out of the lineup as of late.
“Injuries are a part of the sport so this is to be expected,” Koll said. “This year we don’t have the same depth as we have had in the past but we still managed to knock off Lehigh and we are getting healthy just in time for the Ivy League portion of our season.”
Despite the recent injuries, the Red is heading into February with a full lineup and is only one month away from the EIWA Championships. The team will look to take care of business and stay the course with the conference and national championships rapidly approaching.
“The key to a great finish is always health and motivation,” Koll said. “We have a great group of intrinsically motivated young men so the motivation part is easy. We will shorten and intensify our practices to keep our team fresh but prepared and the rest is up to them.”
Senior Brian Realbuto (174) feels his team is primed for a strong finish.
“The team is really doing well as a whole coming into the second half of the season,” he said. “We just got done with some good training over break and a few guys are finally getting healthy so I’m excited to see what we can do when everyone’s competing at their best.”
The Red will compete in the EIWA Championships on March 3 and the NCAA Championships on March 18.
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