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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The History of Top Recruits at Cornell (2005-present)

    Four-time All-American Troy Nickerson (left) (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)


    Yesterday, Cornell received a verbal commitment from Cadet World Champion, Meyer Shapiro (Wyoming Seminary, PA), the #2 overall recruit in the high school Class of 2023. Shapiro is the highest-ranked wrestler to commit to second-year head coach Mike Grey and joins a short-list of top-ten recruits that have matriculated to Ivy League school in Ithaca. How have the previous blue-chippers fared while at Cornell? Glad you asked. We have looked at the wrestlers ranked in the top ten of their respective graduating classes that wrestled for the Big Red and reminded you of some of their pre-collegiate credentials, along with a recap of their careers.

    This exercise starts in 2005 as individual big boards or top 100's are difficult to come by for any time before 2005.

    2005

    #3 Troy Nickerson (Chenango Forks, NY)

    In reality, Travis Lee was probably the first huge recruit of the Rob Koll-era in Ithaca, but recruiting rankings were non-existent from his senior year in high school (2001). I'd also wager that if they were "a thing," he still wouldn't have matched the hype that surrounded Troy Nickerson coming out of high school. Nickerson was New York's first-ever five-time state champion and won a pair of Cadet and Junior National Championships.

    Nickerson went on to AA four times for the Big Red, never finishing lower than fourth in any year. He was an NCAA finalist as a true freshman and a national champion in 2009.


    2006

    #3 Mike Grey (Delbarton, NJ)

    New Jersey's first-ever four-time state champion, Mike Grey, recorded 120 wins via fall along with a 157-2 career record. He was a Junior National Champion in freestyle and grabbed a title at NHSCA Senior Nationals.

    What a great signing this turned out to be as Grey had a distinguished career that included a pair of EIWA titles and appearances on the NCAA podium. As soon as Grey's competitive career finishes, he joined the Big Red coaching staff and hasn't left. Last June, after Rob Koll stepped down, Grey was named Cornell's head coach. In his first season at the helm, Grey led the team to a top-ten finish and oversaw Yianni Diakomihalis' first NCAA title.


    #7 Mack Lewnes (Mt. St. Joseph, MD)

    A two-time National Prep champion, Mack Lewnes also won all of the notable regular-season tournaments, the Ironman, the Beast, and the Powerade (x2). Lewnes was also a member of the Dapper Dan team.

    From the time he stepped on campus, Mack Lewnes was one of the top wrestlers in the nation. He captured four EIWA titles and placed in the top four at NCAA's on three occasions. In both 2009 and 2010, Lewnes entered the NCAA Tournament as the undefeated top seed. He was also never seeded lower than four in his four trips to nationals.


    2009

    #4 Kyle Dake (Lansing, NY)

    In 2008 Kyle Dake made his international debut when he finished in 14th place at the Junior World Championships, while competing in Greco-Roman. Dake also won the NHSCA grade-level tournament on three occasions, mixing in a pair of New York state titles for good measure.

    Dake would go on to have one of the most unique and outstanding collegiate careers in the history of the sport. As a true freshman, he jumped into the fray and immediately brought home a national title at 141 lbs. In each of the proceeding years, Dake moved up a weight class and claimed an NCAA championship. His final win, over returning Hodge Trophy recipient David Taylor, helped him earn the 2013 Hodge. His greatness wasn't limited to the collegiate scene as Dake has won three world titles and an Olympic bronze medal.

    2010

    #3 Chris Villalonga (Blair Academy, NJ)

    Chris Villalonga has one of the best high school careers in the history of Blair Academy wrestling, a feat in itself. Villalonga was a four-time National Prep champion and won the Ironman and Beast three times. After the high school season, Villalonga won NHSCA Senior's and was named the OW at the Dapper Dan.

    In each of his first two years at Cornell, Villalonga made the NCAA tournament but went 0-2 both times. After winning the first of two EIWA titles, Villalonga was seeded third at the 2014 tournament, but fell a match short of placing. He finally got on the podium as a senior when he took sixth place.

    #5 Marshall Peppelman (Central Dauphin, PA)

    A member of some incredible Central Dauphin teams, Marshall Peppleman won three Pennsylvania state titles and made the finals four times. He grabbed a pair of belts at the Super 32 and also was victorious at the Beast of the East three times.

    In Peppelman's best season as a collegiate (2011-12), he finished fourth in the EIWA and qualified for the NCAA Championships. Peppleman used his final year of eligibility to compete for Lehigh and he was seventh in the conference at 165 lbs. He tallied 73 wins, against 50 losses, during his collegiate career.


    2012

    #6 Alex Cisneros (Selma, CA)

    A three-time state champion and four-time finalist in single-class California, Alex Cisneros ended up being one of the top wrestlers in the Class of 2012. He ended up competing for a year at Cornell, but never broke into the starting lineup for an extended period of time.

    #7 Mark Grey (Blair Academy, NJ)

    Like his older brother, Mark Grey, made a bit of history while in high school. He was the first wrestler to win the aptly-named Beast of the East four times. Grey also was a four-time National Prep champion, competing for Blair Academy. Before his senior year, Grey made the Junior World Team in freestyle and came up a match shy of medaling. He would replicate that feat in 2013.

    After a grayshirt year, Grey came out and took third in the conference, a placement he'd attain twice in the following seasons. Grey received the 15th seed and ended up falling in the bloodround. That would end up being his best NCAA finish in three trips.

    2017

    #3 Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton, NY)

    A recruit with precollegiate credentials approaching Cornell studs like Nickerson and Dake, Yianni Diakomihalis amassed a 242-3 record that included four New York state titles. He also became one of only two Americans to win a pair of Cadet World Championships, a feat he accomplished in 2015 and 2016.

    Right away, Diakomihalis jumped into the Big Red lineup and proved to be a title threat. His first year ended with a national title after rallying in his final three NCAA bouts. Since then, Yianni has another pair of NCAA championships and is on the brink of becoming Cornell's second four-time national champion. Only four wrestlers have achieved the feat previously. Yianni enters his final year with a 75-match winning streak. While at Cornell, Diakomihalis has already made a Senior world team.

    #4 Vito Arujau (Syosset, NY)

    Like Yianni, Vito Arujau was also a four-time New York state champion during his high school days. He also experienced some success internationally, earning a silver medal at the Cadet World Championships in 2016. Arujau also was a champion at the Super 32 and at FloNationals.

    Unlike Yianni, Arujau waited a year before stepping in for Cornell. In year one, Arujau made the EIWA finals before taking fourth in the nation. After a few years away, Arujau returning in 2021-22 with an EIWA title and a third-place finisher in Detroit. In freestyle, he's made the finals of the Junior World Championships and the 2020 Olympic Team Trials.


    2019

    #10 Julian Ramirez (Blair Academy, NJ)

    Julian Ramirez finally got a chance to compete officially for Cornell in 2021-22 as he delayed enrollment initially, then was hampered by the Ivy League shutdown last year. The two-time National Prep champion and three-time Beast winner proved to be quite capable with a fourth-place finish at his first EIWA tournament. He would advance to the NCAA Round of 12 before getting eliminated at the 165 lb weight class.

    2020

    #8 Joshua Saunders (Christian Brothers College, MO)

    The list of pre-collegiate achievements for Joshua Saunders was extremely impressive as he captured three Missouri state titles, two stop signs in Fargo, and berths on the Cadet and Junior World Teams, before ever enrolling at Cornell.

    Saunders did not see action in a dual meet last year, but was 13-4 competing in tournaments. At the Southern Scuffle, Saunders logged four wins, including one over an NCAA qualifier (Angel Martinoni), though he did not place.

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