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Cornell’s Crowned Prince

By Kyle Klingman

Rob Koll was visibly pleased. Rather than downplay his team’s victory, a tradition amongst many college wrestling coaches, Koll savored the moment.

Cornell's Rob Koll led his school to its first NWCA National Duals title where his late father was once a star

Cornell University, the school where Koll is in his 18th season as head coach, had won its first National Duals championship on a purple Northern Iowa wrestling mat. And that was all that mattered.

“This is awesome is all I can say,” said Koll after his 25-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the finals. “I’m giddy.”

Prior to the euphoria of winning, Koll was nostalgic. During his stay in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Koll visited his past.

Bill Koll, Rob’s late father, was a wrestling legend. Bill, known for his rough-and-tough style on the mat, was an undefeated three-time champ for Northern Iowa (then known as Iowa State Teachers College) from 1946-1948. He then coached them from 1953-1964.

Although Rob did not grow up in Cedar Falls, Koll family vacations were annual treks to the place where Bill created his legacy. While Rob was in town for the Duals he drove to spots where his family used to stay.

He also visited the historic West Gym; site of Northern Iowa’s wrestling room and the venue where his father competed and coached. Rob saw his father’s picture in the new Hall of Champions outside the wrestling offices.

Rob’s excursion to the West Gym triggered one of his favorite stories too.

“I still remember coming back here to UNI when I was a freshman at North Carolina,” said Koll, an NCAA champion for the Tar Heels in 1988. “I went out and I wrestled Lew Sondgeroth. He had tattoos all over his arms when tattoos weren’t around. He had just gotten out of the Navy. He scared the living daylights out of me. They made me the honorary captain, there was this big ceremony, and I lost. I gassed (during the match).

“I remember (my dad) came down and put his arm around me and said he was proud of me.

“I said, ‘Why is that?’

“He said, ‘You’ve done something a Koll has never done in this gym.’

“And I said, ‘What’s that?’

“He said, ‘You lost!’ And then he laughed.”

It is a fond memory for Rob, one that showed a different side to his father.

But Rob has an opportunity to do something his father never did: coach a team to an NCAA title.

In fact, Rob has already outdone his father in the coaching arena. Cornell has placed in the top five four out of the past six seasons, including a second-place finish at the 2010 NCAA tournament and a fourth-place finish at the 2005 NCAA tournament.

Bill coached at Northern Iowa (1953-1964) and Penn State (1965-1978). His best finish at the NCAA Division I tournament, as a coach, was fourth: once in 1953 for Northern Iowa and once in 1971 for Penn State. His teams placed in the top five one other time.

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