Cornell catalyst could be Perrelli’s determination

Updated: November 2, 2010

Jason Bryant

By Jason Bryant

Wrestling coaches have a hard time trying to retain wrestlers from one year to the next. It’s been a discussion topic in coaches meetings, message boards and coaches clinics around the country.

The word is attrition. All levels of wrestling experience it:

• Keeping the ten-year-old who doesn’t win a match his first year of wrestling;

• Keeping the JV wrestler who’s behind a two-time high school state champion;

• in Frank Perrelli’s case, sitting behind a four-time All-American and NCAA champion.

When people look at Cornell’s line-up and analyze Rob Koll’s top-ranked Big Red team, they look at names like Mack Lewnes, Mike Grey, Kyle Dake and Cam Simaz. They’ll even look to freshmen like Chris Villalonga and Marshall Peppelman.

Cornell's Frank Perrelli

Perrelli could be the wrestler that pushes Cornell to the school’s first national title. Some dubbed him the nation’s best backup. That’s not a title he cared for.

“I’m not trying to be the best backup, I’m trying to be the best starter,” said Perrelli.

So why didn’t Perrelli try his luck outside of Ithaca and have a chance to make the NCAA tournament more than just the two years he has remaining?

“I love it here and yeah, I know I’m not going to start for four years,” he said. “I only have two, half of what the other guys get. I have to make the most of those two years and Cornell was where I was going to reach my potential. With Coach Koll, Damion Hahn, Matt Azevedo and Jeremy Spates, I think it’s the best training situation in the country for sure.”

Koll never expected Perrelli to leave, or even consider leaving, to get more starting time elsewhere.

“We don’t have attrition problems,” said Koll. “One of my goals every year is to not let anybody quit. That’s why we’re going to have a good and always have a senior-laden team or experienced team because no one quits our team. I’m sure there’s no team out there that can compete with what we do with keeping kids focused on getting better.”

Guys like Perrelli are becoming less and less prevalent. Stories like Jesse Whitmer, the NCAA champion from Iowa who rode the pine for four years and got one chance – and took it — are extreme exceptions. It seems “paying your dues” takes a backseat to “what can you do for me now.”

Guys like Perrelli, however, are prevalent at Cornell.

“We have a history of guys like Frank Perrelli stepping in and making the line-up their junior and senior year,” explained Koll. “Frank’s certainly on the top of that. It’s been tough.

“He’s gotten a great deal of competition and this summer he won the University Nationals and the key for a guy like Frank is to make sure he knows he’s getting better so he knows there’s some satisfaction and some goals being reached.”

So if teams start eyeing Cornell backups as potential line-up fixes for the future, don’t expect it to happen. Koll proudly proclaims he’s never had a wrestler transfer out in his 23 years.

“We’ve made wrestling a big sport here at Cornell,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a part of the team. If you’re here, you want to be here, you don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Were there confidence issues for Perrelli when he saw time in the line-up?

Koll doesn’t think so and many on the outside looking in don’t understand the pressure on a wrestler working hard knowing he’s not going to start … at least not that season.

“All he needs is consistency, I don’t mean in performance, but he knows he’s the guy from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” said Koll. “It’s hard to know you’re not going to be the guy in the big match.

“What he needs to do is be the guy from day one and know he’s going to be the guy. As motivated as Frank Perrelli is, it’s got to affect you. He knows he’s going to reap the direct rewards of his labor. As hard as he worked, it’s amazing. He was working as hard the week before Nationals as he was the first week and he wasn’t going to Nationals,” said Koll.

There’s something slightly different about Perrelli. When you talk to him, you can not only pick up on the sincerity in his words, but you can hear how hard he’s worked through his words.

You can hear it in Koll’s voice. He’s a kid you immediately root for, well, that is unless you’re from Penn or Harvard or the entire wrestling community who wants to stop Cornell’s title run this year.

But what about those junior varsity wrestlers who quit their high school team because they can’t start or that wrestler who will burn a year of eligibility at another major university?

Does Perrelli have any notes or things that can change a wrestler’s mind into sticking by a choice to attend school?

You bet he does.

“I feel your destiny is in your own hands,” said Perrelli. “If you’re going to be working hard and putting in the time, you’re going to get your opportunity; whether it comes right off the bat or even if it comes if you’re a senior or after college.                         “You have to look at your goals and have tunnel vision, keep training day in and day out and keep your mind on that final goal.

“Everyone’s got those kind of goals, for some people it’s realistic, like Kyle Dake. His goal is to be a four-time national champion. That is realistic,” said Perrelli. “I developed a little bit later. I only won one state title in New Jersey.

“I know now that I wasn’t that great, but it’s the hard work that’s going to win me those two national titles, that’s what I’m aiming for.”