When Steve Bosak petitioned Cornell coach Rob Koll in late November to let him make his return at the Las Vegas Invitational, he was disappointed by Koll’s response.
Then, Bosak had just been cleared after a serious staph infection required him to cease all athletic endeavors and wear an IV that fed antibiotics to his heart for a month and a half, and Koll’s response was a resounding, ‘No way.’
On Thursday, inside the bowels of the Wells Fargo Arena, a bloodied Bosak grinned as he reflected on the letdown that he had to wait even longer to return to defend his 184-pound NCAA title.
Now, he’s thankful Koll held him out.
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“The wrestling mindset is you think you can handle anything,” Bosak said. “But sometimes you need your coach to bring you back down to earth a little bit and tell you what’s best for you.”
Bosak’s wait paid off. He advanced to the quarterfinals at 184 pounds with a first-round demolition of Oregon State’s Ty Vinson and a second-round edging of Navy’s Mason Bailey, 2-0.
In the first round, Bosak, a State College standout, and the No. 4 seed, looked like the dominant wrestler who went on a steady run to the 184-pound crown last season, a title he won over childhood friend, Quentin Wright.
Although his face was scarred from a rough two sessions of wrestling — Bosak had considerable damage as scuffs and cuts lined both eyes — he insisted he feels great. He’ll meet Iowa’s 12th-seeded Ethen Lofthouse (22-7) in the quarters. Cornell is 10th in the team standings with 12 points.
“I feel coming through two wins here, I pushed the pace in both matches,” Bosak said. “The second one was a little close for comfort but it is what it is.”
While he could only lightly pedal a stationary bike during his time away from the mat — he was instructed not to increase his heart rate by doctors — Bosak put in extra hours in the Cornell wrestling room as soon as he was cleared in November.
“It was frustrating in the beginning because I came back in the room, and your conditioning isn’t where it is after a month and a half of not doing anything,” Bosak said. “I dealt with the adversity the best I could, got extra workouts, got some extra lifts in and I just feel great now.”
Koll also is a State College native and former Little Lions standout.
Bellefonte standout Mitchell Port also made his return to the NCAA tournament in better shape after a season full of improvements.
After Port just missed out on All-America laurels last season, the Edinboro 141-pounder returned to this season’s NCAA tournament in better shape mentally and physically.
Port, a sophomore with the Fighting Scots, fell behind early to Drexel’s Frank Cimato as Cimato scored the opening takedown. But Port battled back and fought his way out from underneath Cimato.
He notched a late first-period takedown and added an escape to begin the second. With a 2:35 edge in riding time, Port posted the 5-2 win.
“He’s gotten a lot better,” Edinboro coach Tim Flynn said.
And Port continued that trend with a whipping of Hofstra’s Luke Vaith in the second round.
He didn’t wait around to get scored on this time, opening the scoring with a takedown of his own just over a minute in. He escaped to start the second then dialed up his attacks with another takedown and three-point tilt. Port was taken down in the beginning of the third but escaped and added another takedown after picking up a penalty point.
Port put together strong rides to end the bout with over two minutes of riding time and a 13-2 major decision. It was Port’s 17th-straight win and helped Edinboro reach 19th in the team standings with 9.5 points.
“He’s better when there’s more movement, more action,” Flynn said. “I think he’s pretty talented and has a good feel for wrestling. So when there’s more action, he’s at his best.”
The former Red Raider state champion will face fifth-seeded Evan Henderson (38-6) of North Carolina, a former workout partner when the two were younger grapplers. It is Port’s first trip to the quarterfinals.
“We would’ve liked to get him in there last year, but maybe he quite wasn’t ready,” Flynn said. “Now he’s put in a lot of work and he’s one of the best guys in the country.”