Cornell Wrestler may be best in country!

Two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell making run at history
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling

Cornell’s Kyle Dake celebrates after winning his second NCAA title this past March in Philadelphia. Larry Slater photo.

Cornell junior Kyle Dake has never been one to back away from a challenge.

Or shy away from setting a goal that may seem unattainable for even the most elite wrestlers.

“If you have low expectations,” he said, “you will underperform every time.”

Nobody will accuse the multi-talented Dake of doing that.

Dake took the college wrestling world by storm as a true freshman, stepping on the elevated platform for the 2010 NCAA finals in Omaha and winning the 141-pound title.

He followed that by blitzing through the field and outscoring his five foes by an unthinkable combined total of 32-1 to win the 149-pound crown this past March in Philadelphia.

So what does Dake have planned for an encore this season?

He has moved up to 157 pounds and the top-ranked Dake is gunning to win his third NCAA title, finish unbeaten and win the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate wrestler.

He then plans to set his sights on challenging for a freestyle title at April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.

“In sixth grade, wrestling in the Olympics became one of my goals,” Dake said. “I have always wanted to be on an Olympic Team.”

Dake’s goal of making the Olympic Team doesn’t seem that unrealistic. He lost a close match to Andrew Howe in the finals of the University Nationals this past April. Howe has finished second at the U.S. Senior World Team Trials the past two seasons.

The match came down to a third-period coin flip. Howe, a 2010 NCAA champion, won the flip and finished in the leg clinch to win the match.

Dake went 3-2 at the U.S. World Team Trials at 74 kg/163 lbs. this past June in Oklahoma City. Nick Marable outlasted Dake 3-3, 3-0, 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Marable finished third overall after losing to Howe in the finals of the Challenge Tournament.

“Kyle looks good at this point – I love his attitude,” U.S. National Coach Zeke Jones said. “He likes to train hard and wrestles with a swagger that our best World and Olympic champions all have. Technically, I like the fact that he’s got a Greco-Roman background, which lends itself well to freestyle. He can control the tie-up, can attack the upper body well, and has a good leg attack to go with it. Plus, he’s a monster on top. He’s got a future on our National Team, I know it.

“Kyle spent some time with us last summer and I know he wants to be the best in the World.”

The road to the 2012 Olympic Games at 74 kilos will go through 2011 World champion Jordan Burroughs, who already has landed a spot in the final-round series of the Olympic Trials by virtue of winning a World medal this year.

Dake and Burroughs have never faced each other.

“Burroughs is a World champ, and he’s obviously a great wrestler,” Dake said. “He is older and more experienced. I think I am right there with the best guys in the country. I think my style transitions pretty well from folkstyle to freestyle.”

Dake said he watched as many matches as he could during the past two Olympic Games.

“Watching Cael Sanderson win it (in 2004) was awesome and then watching Henry Cejudo do it (in 2008) was great,” Dake said. “That was pretty impressive. It was exciting to see. I also watched a lot of the Russians like (Bouvaisa) Saitiev and (Besik) Kudukhov. It would be great to have that opportunity.”

Dake has developed while climbing the USA Wrestling ranks. He made the 2008 U.S. Junior World Team in Greco-Roman wrestling. He went 1-1 at the 2008 Junior Worlds in Turkey.

For now, the focus is squarely on his third collegiate season at Cornell. Dake is seeking to become the first wrestler in Division I history to win NCAA titles at three different weight classes.

He hopes to join Sanderson and Pat Smith as the only four-time NCAA champions in Division I history.

“You have to approach it match-by-match,” Dake said. “You can’t get too hyped up on the whole four-title thing. I have to win three before I win four. This year is a new weight class and a new challenge. Guys are wrestling their best when they face me and they are bringing their A game. It’s tough competition. I can’t underestimate anyone.”

Dake continues to thrive despite bumping up another weight class this year. He already owns a 5-0 win over 2008 Olympian Jake Deitchler of Minnesota this season.

“I feel really good at 157,” he said. “It’s a more natural weight class for me. I don’t feel like I am giving up any strength. I feel as strong as I did at the previous two weight classes. It is a good fit for me.”

Dake has proven you can excel in a grueling, time-consuming sport like wrestling and also excel in the classroom at a top academic school like Ivy League member Cornell.

Dake is majoring in developmental sociology with a minor in business.

“You really have to manage your time well – you don’t have much time to mess around,” he said. “You hit the books, practice and get your extra workouts in. It cuts down on your free time.”

Cornell finished a close second to Penn State at the 2011 NCAA Championships. The Big Red is ranked third nationally this season after a big season-opening, dual-meet win over then-No. 3 Minnesota.

Dake is scheduled to compete next at the Cliff Keen Invitational on Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas.

“It has been great to make people aware that Cornell has one of the best programs in the country,” Dake said. “We had a good year last year. We thought we had a great shot to win it, but we had some injuries and some other things that didn’t go our way. We have a good young team this year and we are going to improve. The win over Minnesota was a big win for us.”

Dake is an excellent all-around wrestler who has become especially lethal in the top position. Choose the bottom position against Dake and you likely will stay glued to the mat for the next two minutes.

That was evident when Penn State’s Frank Molinaro chose the bottom position in his 2011 NCAA finals match with Dake, who piled up six-plus minutes of riding time en route to an 8-1 win.

“Coach (Rob) Koll really emphasizes for us to be good on top and on bottom,” Dake said. “He wants guys to be scared to go under us. We are going to make you pay if we take you down or if you pick down. We work really hard on that.”

Dake grew up just a few miles from the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.

“I grew up wishing to go to Cornell and dreaming of having a Cornell singlet on,” he said. “It is what I pictured myself doing. I am living that dream. I really love it here. It’s a perfect fit for me.”

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