2019 slate offers tough challenges for Big Red wrestling

Yianni Diakomihalis scores a takedown during his run to a NCAA title in 2018. Diakomihalis looks to lead Cornell to another top-10 team finish.
Yianni Diakomihalis scores a takedown during his run to a NCAA title in 2018. Diakomihalis looks to lead Cornell to another top-10 team finish.
Photo provided by Cornell University Athletics

The new year brings about the start of many things. For college wrestling, the new year often means the beginning of the “main course” of the schedule, the heart of the dual season. For the Cornell Big Red, the core of the dual meet schedule lies ahead in 2019.

2018 was a thrilling year for the Big Red from the very beginning. Cornell saw five wrestlers bring home All-American honors from the NCAA Tournament in March, including Yianni Diakomihalis’ 141-pound national championship.

After last season, while emotions and the excitement level were high, the Big Red began to realize the realities that come with a combative sport like wrestling. With offseason surgeries, season-ending injuries before the season began, and the day-to-day bumps and bruises that come with practices, the Big Red’s lineup for this season looked shockingly different from the one that ended last season.

Early season dual and individual tournament lineups showed glaring omissions from the projected lineup that is expected to make a run at a top-10 finish in March. Regardless of the weights that needed others in the room to step into the starting roles, the Big Red open the dual season unbeaten prior to their holiday break. Now, Cornell is excited to welcome back its heavy hitters to the starting lineup as the staples of the Big Red squad slowly return to the room.
With the break coming to an end and 2019 getting underway, the Big Red is preparing for the remainder of the dual season and the opening of Ivy League competition.

The Big Red opens the 2019 slate with a challenging road test against a top-25 opponent in the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh. The Hawks, who ended Cornell’s run of 11 straight EIWA team titles last season, bolster a lineup that will provide fireworks in the upper weights with Cornell’s representation of Brandon Womack and Max Dean at 174 and 184 respectively.

After the clash with the Lehigh, the Big Red open the Ivy League schedule with a double dip of action with Columbia and Sacred Heart. While every opponent can look to create a shakeup with an upset, the Big Red look to be in good shape for the day after a 33-5 win over Columbia a season ago.

A pair of Ivy League matchups await the Big Red in late January on the road against Brown and Harvard. Last season, both duals were fairly lopsided in favor of Cornell with the Big Red winning 16 of the 20 bouts between the two duals. A sweep of Harvard was stolen away from the Big Red when Josef Johnson upset then 17th ranked Womack. This season, the Big Red look to make this weekend a dominating team win once again.

In a match that came down to the wire a season ago, the Big Red are set to meet with Lock Haven on Feb. 2. Last season, the Bald Eagles made a strong showing in the late rounds of the NCAA Tournament with Chance Marsteller at 165 and a Cinderella run by senior Ronnie Perry to the finals at 149. Without Perry, the Bald Eagles seem a little less of a contender for the top-15 at the national tournament but still look to Marsteller to lead the way. Cornell is expecting senior Jon Jay Chavez to be back in the lineup by the time of the matchup, which may provide a marquee matchup at 165.

The following weekend offers another challenging test for Cornell as it takes on Princeton, a team that has begun to climb into the national spotlight with top-ranked wrestlers and a highly touted recruiting class. The matchup with the Tigers comes a day after the Big Red square off with Penn, a dual that saw Cornell lose a decision and a forfeit last season. The Tigers will look to wrestlers like Mathew Kolodzik, the top-ranked wrestler at 149, to derail the Big Red and possibly end Cornell’s quest for a 17th Ivy League title.

The Big Red will round out the dual season with three ranked opponents before heading off to the EIWA Championships in early March. A long road trip south sees Cornell matchup against a Virginia Tech squad that cruised past West Virginia 24-9, a team that Cornell defeated 20-15 with a patched-up lineup back in November. The Hokies will be without last season’s national runner-up Jared Haught due to Haught’s graduation.

Following the bout with the Hokies, the Big Red looks to repeat the result of last season’s matchup with North Carolina, a team that finished 20th at the national tournament in 2018. Coleman Scott, the head coach for the Tarheels who recently signed a new contract extension, looks to continue his team’s rise through the strengthening ACC.

Finally, to round out the dual slate in 2019, the Big Red welcome the Buckeyes of Ohio State to Newman Arena on Feb. 22. The second-ranked Buckeyes return a core group of strong and scrappy lower weights like Joey Mckenna, Luke Pletcher, Micha Jordan, and Ke-Shawn Hayes. The 141-pound bout will, no doubt, highlight the matchup with Diakomihalis currently ranked number one and McKenna ranked a spot behind him. The two programs haven’t met since their scrap in February of 2017, a dual that was fueled by upsets on the way to a 19-18 Cornell victory.

The Big Red will undoubtedly have its hands full with its dual schedule but looks to use those matchups in preparation of recapturing an EIWA crown and making a run at the top spot in the NCAA.


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