Cornell’s Dylan Palacio is one of 330 wrestlers who is competing in the NCAA wrestling championships at Madison Square Garden this weekend. None of the others are anything like him. Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Friday night’s sellout crowd of 18,309 that has a personality anywhere near as infectious or genuine as Palacio’s.
A straightforward question such as, “Can you describe what it was like to win four straight bouts on Day 2 of the tournament to secure your spot in the consolation-bracket semifinals?” will yield a flurry of insightful responses from the 157-pounder that, somehow, relate directly to wrestling
Take, for example, the Long Beach High School alumnus’ stance on friendship, which he said empowers him on the mat.
“Some of my friends are texting me, FaceTiming me when I’m warming up. They don’t know the first thing about wrestling, but they’re right there in my corner,” Palacio said. “That’s friendship. And with something like that, a positive environment like that, you can do anything.”
Or, his take on identity.
“I’m Cornell, but listen man, I’m still Long Island,” Palacio said, “and that’ll never change. People who aren’t comfortable with themselves, they will change. But I have a wide enough perspective to know who I am. And because of that, I’m at complete bliss when I step on the mat.”
Palacio defeated No. 11 Luke Smith (Central Michigan) and No. 14 Austin Matthews (Edinboro) by 5-3 and 12-6 decisions, respectively, Friday morning. He began the night session with a 10-3 decision over No. 7 Cody Pack (South Dakota State) to earn All-American status. An hour later, his pin of No. 6 Joseph Smith (Oklahoma State) in 4:38 sent him into the consolation semifinals.
“Let me tell you something: this isn’t talent,” Palacio said. “This is not talent. This is hard work. This is determination. And this isn’t self-made. This is my friends. My family. My loved ones. We made this.”
Section 109 at the Garden was packed almost exclusively with Cornell fans wearing white shirts with a red “C” in the center. After Palacio became an All-American, they began chanting “Dylan! Dylan! Dylan!” He spread his arms as wide as he physically could, exposing the scar on his left shoulder; last May, he had surgery to repair damage to his labrum, rotator cuff and bicep tendon.
“I’ve got scars to tell the story. I’m the kid with scars, man,” Palacio said. “And this is good for the sport. Because I’m a character. I put on a show for the people . . . I’m trying to bring it back to where people can walk by and say, ‘Wow, this is wrestling?’ I’m that guy for this sport.”
Palacio needs two wins Saturday to place third.
“I’m getting better, but not younger,” Palacio said. “And with that I’m relishing these moments. Because one day, you won’t have the thousands of fans. You won’t have the atmosphere. You won’t have those practices. You won’t have that place you can go to at 4:30 every day to escape your demons. One day you won’t be an athlete, you’ll only have the memories of one. So when it’s all said and done, you have to live enormous, man. Live enormous. Touch lives. Smile for no reason. That’s what I’m all about.”
Hofstra wrestlers win two, lose two
Two junior wrestlers from Hofstra, Jamel Hudson (141 pounds, St. Anthony’s alumnus) and Mike Hughes (285, Smithtown West), each won two bouts, but each suffered his second loss of the meet on Day 2 and was eliminated.
Hofstra was the event’s host school.
“For me, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing,” Hughes said. “Obviously, I don’t see the whole significance yet, but I’m sure after my career is done, knowing that Hofstra hosted it, and that I was in it, and having friends and family just be able to take the train, come and watch . . . It’s going to be something really cool to remember.
“Definitely didn’t finish out the way I wanted, but getting a couple of wins here at nationals, I know that I can wrestle with just about anyone in the country. I still have time to come back strong next year.”
It is the first time in the Garden’s 135-year history that it is hosting the NCAA wrestling championships.
“For the program, it’s unbelievable. For the sport, it’s unbelievable,” said Hofstra coach Dennis Papadatos, who was a four-year starter at Hofstra from 1997-2001 and graduated from Island Trees High School. “The only word you can use to describe it is monumental. It’s monumental. And it’s something that we’re going to talk about 10 an 20 years from now.”
Nebraska senior Anthony Abidin, a 141-pounder and Half Hollow Hills East alumnus, put together two incredible performances in Friday’s morning session — a tech fall in 4:08 (16-0) of Logan Everett (Army), and a pin in 4:42 of Jordan Laster (Princeton) — but was pinned by No. 12 Chris Mecate (Old Dominion) in 1:35.