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EIWA PREVIEW: Cornell going for modern team title record, seeking sixth in a row

After 25 years, the 108th EIWA Championships returns to Princetonʼs Jadwyn Gymnasium this weekend for the first time since 1987. Despite the time lag, Princeton is no stranger to hosting the event, as this is the 14th time they have hosted. The only teams that have hosted more are Lehigh (22) and Penn (15).

The Tigers won their only team title back in 1978 under former coach John Johnston. Since then, the program was nearly lost, but saved due to efforts of some determined alumni. Chris Ayres took over as coach in 2007, and has slowly built the program back to respectability. After winless seasons in 2007 and 2008, he produced an NCAA qualifier in each of the last two seasons, and this season has two outstanding individuals in Adam Krop and Daniel Kolodzik who have been ranked in the Top Ten nationally. Krop placed third at Midlands this season, while Kolodzik placed eighth.

Although the Tigers wonʼt be in contention for a team title this weekend, the return of “Easterns” to Jadwyn is a major benchmark in the return of Princeton to EIWA competitiveness.

Rob Kollʼs Cornell squad is a five-time defending team champion, and will be going for an unprecedented sixth title this weekend. No team in the modern era (post WWII) has achieved this feat.

Lehigh and Cornell have put together back-to-back stretches of five team titles starting in 2002, and the Big Red won six straight back in 1912-1917, an era when there were only five teams in the conference.

The Big Red come into the weekend favored to achieve their goal. The Big Red could put as many as six wrestlers in the finals.

Cornell returns three champions from 2011, led by 3-timer Cam Simaz at 197, who seems headed for a third-straight confrontation with Pennʼs Micah Burak. Frank Perrelli is back at 125, and will grab the coveted #1 seed. Junior Kyle Dake goes up a weight class for the second straight year, and will be the #1 seed at 157. He won at 141 as a freshman two years ago, but was upset by Kevin LeValley of Bucknell last year. He is also a two-time NCAA champion at 141 and 149.

Senior Steve Bosak was second to Lehighʼs Robert Hamlin at 184 last year, and the two have developed a fierce rivalry over the past couple of years. Bosak won the dual confrontation this season by a 2-1 score as he was able to shut down a relentless Hamlin offense.

Other Cornell wrestlers to watch are sophomore Mike Nevinger at 141, and senior heavyweight Maciej Jochym, who have been coming on strong for the last month.

As was the case last year, the most probable challenger for the team title will be Lehigh. Hobbled by injuries all season, coach Pat Santoro finally put all of his first string wrestlers on the mat at the same time for the last dual meet of the season.

In addition to Hamlin, the Mountain Hawks return former champion Zach Rey, a three-time finalist, at heavyweight. Rey was upset at Easterns last year by Ryan Flores of American, but went on to defeat Flores in the NCAA finals in Philadelphia. The two have not met this season.

Senior Brandon Hatchett, who recently returned to the lineup following an injury, will be the probable top seed at 165. Another senior, Joe Kennedy, is also back in the lineup at 197 following a hand injury

A true freshman, Mason Beckman, projects as a probable finalist at 133. He has come on strong since moving up from 125 in late December. Steve Dutton, who owns a win over defending champion Matt Mariacher, will be the probable #2 seed at 141.

Another true freshman, Nate Brown will likely challenge Rutgersʼ Greg Zannetti at 174. Brown lost to him by a point in the dual.

Third place in the team race will likely be a spirited battle between Rutgers and Penn, although each can claim a shot at second place. Whoever can have the most wrestlers earn sixth, seventh and eighth places could have an advantage.

The Scarlet Knights suffered a couple of late-season injuries, and otherwise went through a kind of slump. But coach Scott Goodale expects to have everyone back in the lineup this weekend, which might give his troops a morale boost. If so, Rutgers could finish a strong third and even challenge for second.

Two nationally ranked wrestlers, Mario Mason at 149 and Greg Zannetti at 174, will be seeded first, while Scott Winston is the expected #2 seed at 165. With the exception of lineup holes at 157 and heavyweight, Rutgers has the potential to earn NCAA qualifiers at every weight class.

Rob Eiter has been quietly building a strong team in West Philadelphia.

The Quakers could have #1 seeds at both 133 and 141 with Bryan Ortenzio and Zack Kemmerer, while Micah Burak will likely have his third straight runnerup year at 197 (behind Simaz). Sophomore Steve Graziano has been coming on at heavyweight, but will have a hard time getting into the finals with either Flores or Rey. Penn is a threat to place wrestlers fourth or higher in seven different weight classes.

If everything goes right, they could be in the hunt for second place.

The NCAA has released its qualifier allocations for the 2012 NCAA Div. I Championships. The EIWA has 46 qualifiers, the second most behind the Big Ten with 74 qualifiers. Three EIWA weight classes have six qualifiers (141, 149, 157).

Here are thumbnail sketches for each weight class:

125 pounds (3 NCAA qualifiers)
Perelli is the heavy favorite to retain his crown. Princetonʼs Garrett Frey is expected to return to the lineup after being out for several weeks, and is the likely #2 seed. After that itʼs anyoneʼs guess among Vinny Dellafave (Rutgers), Thomas Williams (American), Billy Watterson (Brown) and Austin Miller (Bucknell).

133 pounds (5 NCAA qualifiers)
The top three are fairly equal, with Ortenzio getting the likely #1 seed, This is important, because #2 and #3 (likely Beckman and Steven Keith of Harvard) will have to wrestle each other in the semi finals. Beckman pinned Keith in the neutral position three weeks ago, so this would be an interesting rematch.

141 pounds (6 NCAA qualifiers)
This is one of the toughest weight classes. Kemmerer is clearly the top seed, with Dutton the likely #2. The two didnʼt meet in the dual because Dutton was out with an injury. Matt Mariacher of American is the defending champion, but has been beaten this season by Kemmerer, Dutton and Krop. This could drop him to the #4 seed, but he is dangerous and could bid to retain his crown. Nevinger and Ashnault could also be major factors here.

149 pounds (6 NCAA qualifiers)
The defending champion is Dake, but he has moved up to 157. Mason has been ranked top ten nationally all season, and will probably be the top seed. Harvardʼs Corey Jantzen was second at 141 in 2009, but has been injury-prone for most of his career. Heʼs been out for several weeks, but hopes to be back this weekend, and is the likely #2 seed. Columbiaʼs Steve Santos and Penn freshman Steve Robertson may battle it out for third place. After that, the picture gets very hazy, as a host of wrestlers will all be in the hunt.

157 pounds (6 NCAA qualifiers)
Two-time NCAA champion Dake will go for his third EIWA crown at three different weight classes. His chief challenger will be All-American Ganbayar Sanjaa of American, also up from 149. Kolodzik had a late-season convincing upset of Harvardʼs Walter Peppelman, and may draw the #3 seed. Columbiaʼs Jake OʼHara and Navyʼs Bobby Barnhisel may challenge.

165 pounds (4 NCAA qualifiers)
All-American Hatchett will be the #1 seed, with Winston set to challenge him. Freshman Cole Gracey of Army, who defeated Navyʼs Mason Bailey twice in the last month, may get the #3 seed. Bucknellʼs Corey Lear had a late season upset of Sanjaa, who moved up a weight for the occaision, while Penn freshman Lorenzo Thomas has been strong all season.

174 pounds (4 NCAA qualifiers)
Zannetti brings his high-scoring offense to the tournament. The only man to keep it close was Lehigh freshman Nate Brown, who lost to him 3-2. Navyʼs Oscar Huntley is the likely #3 seed over Columbiaʼs Stephen West. Cornell freshman Billy George will challenge the leaders here.

184 pounds (4 NCAA qualifiers)
This is another strong weight class, and the finals rematch between Bosak and Hamlin will be widely anticipated. Hamlin had the upper hand last season, but Bosak won this year 2-1 at Cornell. Luke Rebertus of Navy would be a finalist in any normal year, but it will take a supreme effort to make it against these two. Brown freshman Ophir Bernstein has been a bright light for the Bruins up in Providence, while Michal Gorman of Army and Dan Seidenberg of Rutgers will challenge.

197 pounds (5 NCAA qualifiers)
In another strong weight class, Simaz will attempt to become the tenth four-time champion in the history of the EIWA, and just the third for Cornell. Burak seems destined to place second for the third straight year, but not if Kennedy has anything to say about it. Pairings may be important, as Americanʼs Danny Mitchell has “owned” Kennedy in the past. Rutgersʼ Dan Rinaldi will also be a major factor here. Harvard freshman James Fox will attempt to earn a high place.

285 pounds (3 NCAA qualifiers)
The finals are likely to place the irresistible force (Ryan Flores) against the immovable object (Zach Rey). Flores has ten falls in thirteen bouts, while Rey uses his quickness and strength to escape quickly and control his opponent. Flores is the defending EIWA champion who defeated Rey in overtime last year, while Rey is the defending NCAA champion by virtue of a riding time point over Flores. Graziano appears destined to receive the #3 seed, while Cornellʼs Maciej Jochym has made a late-season challenge that could get him the #4 seed. Columbia senior Kevin Lester will challenge.

If you will not be attending, there are still multiple ways to follow the Championships:

Princeton will provide a live webcast through its website.

EIWA Tournament central page

Official EIWA Tournament Twitter page

Official EIWA Tournament Facebook page

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