Will the friendship between Dake and Taylor be tested as NCAA champs compete at the same weight?

Updated: September 26, 2012

By Mike Finn

When the National Wrestling Coaches Association announced Cornell’s Kyle Dake and Penn State’s David Taylor agreed to face each other in the NWCA All-Star Classic, Nov. 3, in Washington, D.C., many figured it was simply an exhibition between two friends, who had already earned NCAA championships at two different weights.

Kyle Dake used this double underhook to put David Taylor on his back in the first period of their bout during the 2012 Olympic Trials. Dake later pinned the Nittany Lion champ and Hodge Trophy winner in the second period. (Tim Tushla image)

Instead, this early-season matchup will most likely serve as a preview to a possible match-up at 165 pounds in this season’s NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 23, 2013.

Dake and Cornell coach Rob Koll confirmed that when the school in Ithaca, N.Y., announced that Dake — looking to become just the third wrestler to win four NCAA titles — would indeed move up to 165 pounds this season after winning three previous national championships at 141, 149 and 157, respectively, the past three years.

“As Kyle goes for a fourth title, whether it’s at a fourth different weight, it is historical, regardless,” said Koll, who added they came to this decision when they realized it would make the Big Red a stronger team.

“We looked at the cast of characters that we had. Kyle had been cutting a lot of weight and he is confident whatever way he goes,” said Koll, adding that Dake has certified to compete at 157 pounds this year and could still drop down when it comes to the postseason next March.

“If he’s weighing 157 pounds at the end of the year, he’s not going to stay up at 165 to prove a point. It’s about where we have our best team and where he feels best wrestling. If he’s training and he comes down to 160 pounds, then certainly he will be going 157. We will see. He likes to eat too.”

If Dake does indeed stay up at 165 pounds, Koll suggested that Craig Eifert would most likely take over at 157. The junior from Mason, Mich., where he was a three-time Michigan state champion, has compiled a 36-17 career record in two years for the Big Red, competing at three different weights (149, 157 and 165).

“Craig is the guy we’ve been trying to get into our line-up for the last two years,” said Koll, pointing out that Eifert has defeated several All-Americans while competing for Cornell the past two years. He is very talented and certainly can be an All-American caliber wrestler.”

This move to 165 obviously puts a spotlight on the potential of future meetings between Dake and Taylor, the 2012 Hodge Trophy winner and national champion and two-time NCAA finalist. Despite the fact that Dake is from Ithaca, N.Y., and Taylor competed at St. Paris Graham High School in Ohio, they have developed a strong friendship. They found ways to train with each other and annually met at the Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo during the summer.

And when it came to college, Dake immediately began wrestling as a true freshman at Cornell, winning the 141-pound title in 2009-10, while Taylor took a redshirt season for Penn State. One year later, Dake won the 149-pound NCAA championship while Taylor finished second at 157 pounds. And finally last March, both men won national titles; Dake at 157 and Taylor at 165.

They also created quite a stir last April in Iowa City, Iowa, where they competed at 163 pounds in the Olympic Trials, with Dake pinning Taylor. After that bout, where Dake used a double under-hook to throw Taylor to his back, Dake downplayed the importance and it affect on their friendship.

“Let’s go wrestle, what the (heck),” Dake said after the match. “We’re still friends. It is what it is.”

“When you step on that mat, friendships disappear,” Koll said. “And when the match is over, you become friends again. I don’t think David or Kyle are looking at each other as what a good friend I have when they step on either side of the mat. That will not come into the equation once they step on the mat.”

While Cornell and Penn State are not scheduled to meet in a dual meet this season, the teams are scheduled to compete at the Southern Scuffle tournament, Jan. 1-2, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Koll confirmed that Dake’s freestyle experience this past summer — Dake trained with 2012 Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs in London — was a major factor in Dake moving up to 165.

“His (Olympic freestyle) future is not 145.5 pounds. It’s either 163 pounds or 185,” said Koll, adding that he is almost at a loss for words when it comes to describing his wrestler who will look to join Pat Smith (Oklahoma State, between 1990-94) and Cael Sanderson (Iowa State, 1999-2002) as the NCAA’s only four-time national champions on the Division I level.

“What makes (Dake) special?” quizzed Koll, a 1988 NCAA champion from North Carolina. “He is extremely athletic, extremely competitive, extremely focused. He’s extremely good on top and the bottom and his feet. What makes a four-time national champion? They hate to lose more than anything.

“No one was going to ride Cael Sanderson or Pat Smith. I wrestled Pat and knew how competitive he was. Kyle is in the same ilk.

“Those guys don’t back down. They see a challenge and wrestle the best guys in the country and the world. Kyle is not looking at David Taylor or anyone else. He has future plans and is looking at becoming a World champion.

“If you can’t beat a David Taylor or anyone else, then how can you look at becoming a World or Olympic champion? That is no disrespect to any competition but (Dake) is looking down the road to where he wants to be four and eight years from now.”