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Streak of dominance highlights wrestling’s rivalry with Cortland

The+Ithaca+College+wrestling+team+has+quietly+strung+together+a+streak+of+eight+straight+victories+over+the+rival+SUNY+Cortland+Red+Dragons+dating+back+to+2016.+The+Bombers+and+Red+Dragons+last+meeting+on+Jan.+13+ended+in+a+43%E2%80%932+Bombers+victory.
Illustration by Molly Teska/The Ithacan
The Ithaca College wrestling team has quietly strung together a streak of eight straight victories over the rival SUNY Cortland Red Dragons dating back to 2016. The Bombers and Red Dragons last meeting on Jan. 13 ended in a 43–2 Bombers’ victory.

Every Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland student and alum knows about the historic Cortaca Jug football game that takes place every fall. However, the intense spectacle of the rivalry extends into other sports, including wrestling.

In the last eight years, the Bombers have quietly strung together a dominant winning streak against the Red Dragons, with the Red Dragons’ last win being back in 2016. With a highly anticipated duel between the two teams Feb. 15, both squads are looking for a win while also keeping their focus on the postseason. 

Sophomore Bombers’ wrestler Ryan Galka gave high praise to his coaching staff and credits them for all of the team’s recent success against the Red Dragons. 

“It goes to our coaching staff,” Galka said. “We’ve been very lucky to have a good set of coaches that know how to beat Cortland, that know their game style and how to go against them.”

The Bombers’ coaching staff consists of seven Bombers’ alumni who are well versed in the rivalry. Head coach Marty Nichols ’90 has been involved with this rivalry for over three decades as both a Bomber athlete and as a coach. He said he looks forward to this event at the conclusion of every season.

“It’s a great event, great match with the intensity in the crowd and the whole deal,” Nichols said. 

The schools faced off earlier this season at the Budd Whitehill National Duals on Jan. 13th. During the tournament, the Bombers continued its streak of dominance defeating the Red Dragons in a 43–2 beatdown. 

However, Red Dragon’s head coach Thomas Prairie thinks this match certainly could have an asterisk next to it. It was the fifth match of the weekend for both teams and the Red Dragons were hoping to avoid the matchup against the Bombers as Prairie said he was already planning on resting starters for the final match of the tournament.

“We were kind of hoping we didn’t wrestle each other,” Prairie said. “It wasn’t something either of us wanted to do that day.”

Regardless of the circumstances, it was a Bombers win nonetheless and the South Hill squad has the opportunity to extend its win streak next month. First-year Bombers’ wrestler Jake Jones knows that despite the early season blowout, it would be foolish to take the Red Dragons lightly.

“We could beat them 42–3 one week, they could beat us the following week,” Jones said. 

Jones, similar to Galka, also gives credit to his head coach as to why the team has success in these big matches. Jones said unlike other coaches, Nichols has been around block, coaching the Bombers for 28 years and counting. Jones said Nichols ensures that practices remain fun so the team gets stronger while also staying fresh.

“He knows exactly when to make sure we peak … we simulate these big matches,” Jones said. “He’s a great coach in general…he’s the real deal.”

Jones, a Pennsylvania native, is still somewhat new to the rivalry. However, for the upperclassmen on the team like senior Jeremy Mazzella, this rivalry is much more personal. Mazzella said the rivalry makes this win extra important to achieve.

“I think with Cortland, we really want that win more than anything else,” Mazzella said. “With the tension being pretty highit fuels the fire.”

Mazzella, competing in the 285 lb weight class, always wrestles at the end of the matches. Last season’s matchup came down to the last match as current graduate student Matthew Beyer was able to secure a pin to clinch the win. This year, Mazzella said he is yearning for an opportunity to come up big for his team to cement his legacy with the Bombers.

“I almost hope it’s close because if it comes down to me, I’m gonna be there for my team,” Mazzella said.

Despite battling with the Red Dragons over the last five seasons, Mazzella has no hatred toward his rivals. He said that while he and his teammates love to get excited for the rivalry match every year, they are able to recognize that it is just a sport and there are no hostilities between the two programs.

“It’s not really bad blood. … We’re always respecting them as athletes,” Mazzella said. “At the end of the day, whatever happens, we are always gonna wish them well.”

As for the upcoming match, the two head coaches have different viewpoints on how they approach it. Since this is the last match before the NCAA regional championship, which takes place two weeks later March 1 and 2. 

Nichols said he sees this match as a great opportunity to tune up for regionals, as the Red Dragons competitive program and the intense atmosphere will hopefully be a simulation.

“Going into regionals, it kind of gets the guys ready to go and understand that’s the level you have to be at in order to qualify for NCAAs,” Nichols said.

Prairie would love nothing more than to snap the losing streak, especially since this match is going to be hosted by the Red Dragons, but he says his team has their sights on the NCAA championships.

“It’s a priority, but it’s not a priority if that makes sense,” Prairie said. “Nationals are really what you focus on.”

Similar to their last dual, Prairie said he will not hesitate to rest wrestlers in the match against the Bombers if it will negatively affect the Red Dragons’ performance.

“If you have someone a little hurt, you’re not going to risk them two weeks before regionals,” Prairie said.  

Nichols said he knows that whoever the Red Dragons has out there, his team will be ready to give it their all. 

“They know the 43–2 match is not what it’s going to be this time,” Nichols said.

The Bombers’ wrestlers know what is at stake for this upcoming match, even if it is just a late season dual meet. Jones said it is up to the team to make the alumni and the program proud and continue the tradition of beating the Red Dragons.

“It definitely makes me realize that we kind of need to stand our ground,” Jones said. 

However, the squad is staying even keeled because they know that the worst thing possible is to let their emotions get the better of them. Galka explained that the team gets excited for this match every year and that the rivalry adds extra motivation. Despite this, he said they enter the match with the same energy and composure as they would for any other.

“We like to keep the rivalry alive but once we step on the mat it’s mono e mono,” Galka said.

No matter what happens next, the Bombers want to stay focused to continue working on their original long-term goal: send as many athletes to the NCAA Division lll Wrestling championships as possible and take their shot at winning the national championship.

Jones said his squad has to continue strenuous training and they should not be content with their success early on in the season.

“We’re gonna train even harder than we were because we know that they’re gonna be training hard to beat us,” Jones said. “If we could compete with Cortland, we could compete with anyone in the country.”

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