2023-24 Cornell Wrestling

Big Red Insider: Cornell Ready For Competition Outside Practice Room

Big Red Insider: Cornell Ready For Competition Outside Practice Room

With Vito Arujau leading a team coming off a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Cornell wrestling team is ready to get back to competition.

Nov 1, 2023 by Brian Reinhardt
Big Red Insider: Cornell Ready For Competition Outside Practice Room

Each year when the calendar turns to November 1, every college wrestling program is more than ready to get outside their own practice room and hit the mat against opponents that are not wearing their same practice singlets.

That is definitely the case at Cornell, as the Big Red are looking to continue the upward trajectory the program has enjoyed as head coach Mike Grey enters his third season at the helm of his alma mater.

“We are working very hard in the room right now,” said last year’s NWCA national Coach of the Year. “Our guys are looking forward to wrestling somebody else besides their own teammates. Journeymen is coming up fast, and we are excited for it. We are ready to let the cat out of the bag, as they say, and wrestle some other opponents and not just teammates.”

Coming off a third-place team finish at the NCAA Championships with returning a national champion (Vito Arujau at 133 pounds) and four previous All-Americans on the roster (Arujau, Chris Foca, Jonathan Loew and Jacob Cardenas), Cornell starts the 2023-24 campaign ranked seventh in the first NWCA Coaches Poll.

“Our guys love to compete at a high level,” Grey said. “We take pride in having a lot of hammers in our room to train with. We have a lot of great undergraduates on this team. But if you look at our Regional Training Center, guys like Yianni (Diakomihalis), Michael Kemerer, and Nick (Gwiazdowski), we have always had a unique environment in our room. We think it is the best room in the country. 

“The competitiveness and skill are really hard to beat. That has helped us get to the level that we are at. The success last year was to the depth in our room. Having a systematic top-to-bottom program approach to get everybody better is something that is extremely important to us.”

To keep the momentum going coming off that successful season, Cornell has been grinding away and getting ready both physically and mentally since last year’s NCAA run.

First started the team’s preseason phase, which ran from the last weekend in August until the middle of October. During that time, there was more focus off the mat than any other time of the year. The squad was doing a lot of strength training and a lot of running to get their bodies ready for the next and current training phase which leads up to the start of the season.

“Right now, this is pretty much four weeks of grueling training. We are logging a lot of intense training,” Grey said.

“This four-week stretch we are in right now is very challenging, especially for those freshmen that have not been in our room before. It is probably the toughest four week stretch of training they have gone through. Both newcomers and veteran guys, we are putting their backs up against the wall and teaching them how to function in deep waters, but also teaching them how to take their opponents into those deep waters.”

The Year of Vito

There are not many collegiate wrestlers who enjoyed as much success in a span of just seven months as Arujau recently did.

Starting with the 2023 NCAA Championships in March, Arujau won his first NCAA title. He took out three-time finalist Daton Fix via major decision in the semifinals and then got the better of two-time NCAA national champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State in the championship bout. For those efforts he was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler, becoming just the fourth Cornell wrestler to earn the award.

Then in freestyle on the Senior level, Arujau represented the United State and captured the 61-kilogram gold medal at the 2023 World Championships in Serbia.

“His growth mentally has led him to all the success that he has had,” Grey said. “I know that he is going to be laser-focused for this college season. 

“He will continue to do what got him here. He will continue to do those mental exercises which helped him already achieve great things over the past year. He has always gotten everybody’s best shot, and I expect that throughout the season. But he is excited for it.”

Arujau was eligible for another Olympic redshirt this season (he had previously taken one back during the 2019-20 season). But this being his seventh year in the program, there was little doubt he would be defending his NCAA title and then turning around and vying for a spot to represent the U.S. at the 2024 Summer Olympics.

He is consensus preseason #1 at 133 pounds for the collegiate season and then will have to drop down to 57 kg (125.7 pounds) for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in mid-April.

“Vito is not a huge 133-pounder, the last two years he has probably weighed 138 pounds,” Grey said. “He might not be the biggest in his weight class, but he will push you to the wall. He will push you to the brink.

“He is also looking forward to becoming even more of a leader on this team and for him to finish out his last year in a Cornell singlet in a big way.”

Up Next

Cornell will hit the mat for the first time this season against outside competition on Dec. 12 at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic in Lehigh Valley, Pa. The individual round-robin event features squads from Penn State, Arizona State, NC State, Penn, Lehigh, Army, and Purdue among others.

“We are going to learn a lot more when we start competing, that is for sure,” Grey said. “I think once we hit other opponents, that gives us the ability to make our adjustments. I think we are one of the best programs in the country in making those necessary adjustments as the season goes along and having our guys progress and get better throughout the season. 

“We are looking forward to getting some actual data against outside competition, not just stuff inside our own room. We think we have a really good squad, and we are excited to go out there and wrestle the best this year.”

All the action from the Journeymen Collegiate Classic on Sunday, Dec. 12 will be streamed on FloWrestling.