As the winter months begin to settle upon central New York, the Cornell Big Red Wrestling team prepared to make their home opening debut against the West Virginia Mountaineers. As per usual with a match against an opponent from a high-profile conference, such as the Big 12, the Big Red moved the home opener to Newman Arena, a larger venue than the usual Freidman Wrestling Center. While the prospect of a high-profile match was certainly enough to draw a large crowd, wrestling fans came to Saturday’s match to recognize and celebrate a local hero and a world champion.
Back in October, Kyle Dake, a Lansing native and Cornell alumnus, traveled with USA Wrestling to Budapest, Hungary to compete in the Freestyle World Championships. Freestyle, a form of wrestling that relies on exposure rather than the control aspect of high school and collegiate folkstyle of wrestling, is the dominant form among the world’s elite. Dake, who has been rising through the ranks of USA Wrestling, took to the mat against the world’s best in Budapest and would return with numbers that even non-wrestling fans can marvel over.
In his run at the World Championships, Dake would be an offensive menace to his opponents while denying each challenger a chance to tally a point against him, outscoring opponents 37-0 through the tournament.
When the dust settled and the championship match against Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov was complete, Dake stood as the 79-kilogram (174-pound) World Champion.
The title, Dake’s first of his career, carried a large weight stateside in the Cornell wrestling room. During his college wrestling career, Dake took home four national championships, the only Cornell wrestler to ever do so. After competing in Hungary he is once again the rightful owner of another first for a Cornell wrestler: a world champion. This accomplishment led to a celebration of Dake during the home opener against West Virginia, a day simply titled “Kyle Dake Day.”
While wrestling meets are often paced by a small amount of time between matches, a collegiate meet often is slowed by an intermission after the first five of 10 weight classes have been contested. During the stoppage in the meet with the Mountaineers, the Cornell faithful and wrestling fans alike watched as Dake’s accomplishments were read from a podium next to the mat.
After minutes of waiting in the corner of Newman Arena with his championship belt in his hand, Dake finally emerged. The fans had risen to their feet upon his introduction. As he reached the podium, Dake paused momentarily to look at both sides of the stands, taking in the standing ovation and outpouring support, before letting out a sigh and a smile.
“While I may never be able to wear the Cornell singlet again, I will certainly continue to make Cornell proud,” said Dake, opening his remarks.
After the celebration of Dake’s achievements concluded, the Big Red went to work, erasing a team-point deficit to walk off with a comeback win after sophomore Max Dean pinned his opponent in the final bout of the night.“The experience was incredible,” said Dake. “The fans at Cornell have been by my side since the beginning, and to be able to bring home a World Title to them means a lot.”
The scene inside of Newman Arena certainly showed how much the title meant to the Cornell faithful and to the hundreds of youth wrestlers in attendance. At the conclusion of the ceremony and the meet, young fans were able to meet and take photos with Dake.
“It was incredible to see so many young boys and girls excited about wrestling,” he said. “I want them to look at me and see that it doesn’t matter if you come from a small town, or if you are small for your age, or if you want to play other sports as well.”
Beyond wanting to inspire young wrestlers, Dake hopes that his success helps create a new landscape in the county wrestling scene.
“My goal is to have every school administration in Tompkins County to add wrestling to their physical education curriculum.”
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