Gabe Dean

Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of the Big Red Sports Network, which provides excellent Cornell sports coverage throughout the year for alumni, parents, students and fans everywhere.


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Big Red wrestler Gabe Dean was crowned the NCAA national champion at 184 pounds last Saturday in St. Louis. Following his achievement of one of the sport’s ultimate triumphs, the sophomore etched his name in Cornell’s record books as only the 17th national champion in program history.

Dean defeated Nathaniel Brown of Lehigh 6-2 in the finals of his bracket to join prestigious company as the first Big Red champion since Kyle Dake in 2013. So, how did he do it?

Gabe Dean

Dean attributes much of his success to Cornell’s renowned program that Head Coach Rob Koll has built, saying that it’s an honor and privilege to compete in his program.

“I’ve been truly blessed with the opportunities in life that I’ve been given with terrific people,” said Dean. “It’s been a dream come true, and it finally hit me Sunday night while I was alone in my room.”

Throughout the year, Dean had previously competed against Brown on three separate occasions, from which he boasted a perfect 3-0 record. Dean didn’t lower his guard.

“Nate is a great wrestler and a great competitor, so he’s always going to present a tough challenge. I kept reminding myself that it’s just another wrestling match and that’s it. I was excited for the challenge and thankfully I came out on top,” Dean said.

Even though Dean can celebrate and enjoy his current success, at this time just one year ago, he walked away from a disappointing third place finish at the 2014 NCAA Championships.

Dean bounced back in a big way by tearing through this season’s opponents to dominantly conclude the year with a 43-2 record and, of course, a national title.

Dean remarked, “It helped me improve in some areas that I needed to work on. I love this sport partly because you can always get better at something and improve.”

In addition to Dean’s victory, the Big Red finished in fifth place by the end of the weekend, posted four All-American qualifiers, and had another finalist in fellow sophomore Brian Realbuto at 157 pounds. Classmate Nahshon Garrett placed fifth at 125 pounds, and senior Chris Villalonga was sixth at 149 pounds to round out the list of Big Red All-Americans.

Reminiscing on the year, Dean recalled one particular moment that stuck out as a prominent highlight, which actually occurred last weekend: Villalonga concluding his Big Red career by achieving All-American status.

“He is a great guy, and I couldn’t be more proud of him and how he goes about his business,” spoke Dean. “He finally reached a goal that his been in front of him ever since he came to Cornell.”

Dean also recognized the support and hard work of his teammates.

Dean stated, “I also want to acknowledge all of the guys on our team that you don’t see out there competing that push the starters in the room every day. These guys are what truly make us a team, and, without them, none of us starters would be able to reach our goals.”

“I love these guys to death and love competing with them.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.