OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – You wouldn't have guessed it by the way he wrestled during his first year on the Cornell University wrestling team, but Gabe Dean had doubts in his ability to become a college wrestler, let alone one at the Division I level.
Dean had a solid high school resume out of Lowell, winning a state championship as a junior, and finishing runner-up as a senior.
He actually had a better resume as an all state quarterback for the Red Arrows.
But the call came from Cornell, and after Grey-shirting his first year and wrestling for the Finger Lake Wrestling Club last season, Dean earned the varsity spot at 184 pounds at the start of the year.
And from there, Dean got better and better – and kept winning.
In his first 37 matches, he won 35, with his only losses coming to two-time national champion Ed Ruth of Penn State and senior Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland.
And one of his wins came against Ruth, who had an 84-match winning streak at the time.
He won the EIWA championship and qualified as the third seed at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City.
And he wrestled to seed there, taking third, with his only loss coming at the hands of Ruth in the semifinals.
He finished with a 40-3 record, and those 40 wins are the fourth best of any Cornell wrestler for a season, and third best for a freshman.
“There were a lot of doubts that I would turn out to be anything, let alone this,” Dean said. "Nobody thought I would be talking (to the media) at the national tournament after taking third. I was a one-time state champion, and lost to (former Greenville and current Michigan wrestler) Jordan Thomas in the finals my senior year. So there were doubts.”
But the Cornell staff saw something in Dean that many schools didn't. He wasn't a top 100 recruit, but was welcomed to Cornell because of something that can't be taught.
“Gabe has something that can't be taught, the great mentality of go, go, go,” Cornell assistant coach Damion Hahn said. “The ability to go hard and fight when you are tired, is special. The technical part is easy, and he is still learning. But he has the great go mentality.”
Hahn says it reminds him of a former Big Red wrestler that just finished his career at Cornell, and won a national championship two years ago.
And was from Michigan.
“I said the same thing about Cam Simaz when he wrestled,” Hahn said. “Cam was special, and Gabe is just like him. Cam just had a great motor, and I never thought I would have the opportunity to coach a kid like Cam again. But now I have Gabe. And there may be a coincidence that they are both from Michigan.”
Simaz actually coached Dean last year with the Finger Lake Wrestling Club, and Dean credits him, along with Hahn and Cornell head coach Rob Koll for his collegiate development.
And Hahn believes the pipeline from the state of Michigan and Ithaca, NY will stay opened.
Right now there are three wrestlers on the Cornell roster from Michigan – Dean, Cam Simaz's younger brother, freshman 157-pounder Taylor Simaz (Allegan) and 157-pound senior Craig Eifert.
And next year two-time Allegan State champion, and the youngest of the four Simaz brothers, Kyle, will be joining the Big Red roster.
“We have two All-Americans from Michigan in Cam and Gabe, and they are part of the foundation of our program,” Hahn said. “They are pulling great recruits out of the state of Michigan. It is a testament to what they are doing with MYWAY, and some of the youth programs are really big and it's great. Every state should be incorporating that into this sport.”