Photo by BV
Lansing’s William Koll recalled the moment when his college decision became completely clear.
“I knew I wanted to go to Cornell when I did the tour of the Engineering department,” he said. “I saw a bunch of students going about their day, doing their studying and it really resonated with me to see people focused and caring so much about what they were doing. I saw it was an environment where there’s a high workload, but the motivation was personal, not external. I knew that's what I wanted."
While he’s not sure whether he will pursue aerospace engineering, nanotechnology or another area, saying he just has “vague interests” at this point, Koll looks forward to the academic rigor of the Ivy League institution.
But, of course, wrestling played an important role as well.
“For me, I just felt the school has the right things for me to succeed athletically and academically,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt that it’s close to home. I feel that as long as I’m on campus, working hard, I’ll have the same college experience as if I went 1000 miles away.”
He didn’t think too much about schools 1000 miles outside of Ithaca, although he did give some consideration to places like Harvard, Brown, Bucknell and Virginia.
He was encouraged by his father, Cornell head coach Rob Koll, and his high school coach, Kris Harrington, among others, to do some exploring. After all, there were many potential choices for a two-time state champion and Fargo All-American who is also an excellent student with a near-perfect ACT score.
“Ivies called, other great schools called,” Harrington said. “People asked if it was even viable – would he even consider going anywhere else. I think Cornell was always a goal for him. I tried to convince him to take some visits, really look around. Visits are a great experience – the best part of the recruiting process. But in the end, I think he knew what he wanted pretty early on.”
“After I took the official visit to Cornell, I realized going anywhere else would just waste time and money for other coaches,” Koll said. “I didn’t feel right doing that. I knew what I wanted and I guess I wasn’t interested in taking mini-vacations and trips.”
One trip he is accustomed to taking is to Albany at the end of the high school season for the New York State championships. As a freshman, he captured a state crown at 103 pounds. During his sophomore campaign, he was upset by Sean Peacock of Midlakes in the semis, but came back to nab third.
Koll responded with a 42-3 season as a junior at 126 pounds. When the final buzzer sounded after a 6-2 victory over Fredonia’s Dakota Gardner in the New York State title match, Koll had a somewhat atypical outpouring of emotions, falling to his knees and then leaping into the arms of his coaches.
“It was probably just the fact that I hadn’t won the year before,” Koll said. “No one really put pressure on me, but I put a lot on myself. I had some doubts the whole season. After I won, all the emotions were there. I definitely felt relieved.”
He wasn’t done with podium finishes, however. In July, he traveled to Fargo, North Dakota for the biggest tournament of the summer. He made his mark at the national event, going 7-1 in Greco Roman to grab bronze. In Freestyle, he fell just short of placing after compiling a 4-2 mark.
“Fargo was huge for him,” Harrington said. “He was one match from winning the whole thing in Greco – lost to the champ in a tight bout. He came back to win a couple he had to win after that. He knew he was a very good New York wrestler. He saw at Fargo that he’s a very good national wrestler too.”
Koll said he took some other things away from the experience as well.
“I was disappointed not to do better, but I’m glad I went,” he said. “I had the chance to wrestle on a big stage and hopefully I’ll be on a big stage again at the collegiate level and I’ll be ready to do better. I also enjoyed the friends I made there and the people I was with.”
The people he'll be with for the next several years were an important part of his college decision as well.
“That was a big factor,” Koll said. “At times I thought that I should go someplace where I could meet new people, but it’s really comforting knowing friends going in. I obviously know the coaches very well. Kyle [Dake] is like an older brother to me. So is Corey [Dake]. We spent a lot of time together in high school and I owe a lot to him. I’m comfortable with the Cornell wrestlers – good people I know I can trust.”
He’s seen them at competitions for years and also at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club (FLWC), where he enjoys mixing it up with one member of the Big Red in particular.
“I try to wrestle with Nahshon Garrett any chance I get,” Koll said of the nation's #1 125 pounder. “He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever wrestled. He’s such a hard worker and he leaves everything on the mat. The first time we wrestled, he was just playing around with me and I was just trying to hang on. I’m proud to say, I’m getting better. I’m nowhere near beating him, but I make sure he works for his points. And I’ll catch him every now and then if he gets lazy – but then he gets pretty mad and makes up for it.”
It isn’t just higher-level wrestlers like Garrett that Koll works with at the FLWC. According to Harrington, the senior is a leader there, working with the younger grapplers who look up to him.
That’s also the case on the Lansing squad, where Koll said he is especially excited to be teammates with his younger brother Daniel this season.
And wrestling isn't the only squad Koll leads at the school - he is also the captain of the math team.
“It’s a small group, and I’m proud of it,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s a welcome change of pace. We compete once or twice a year, often at local competitions, sometimes at Cornell. We also do some other things on our own – organize speakers or find challenges online.”
According to Harrington, Koll sees plenty of success in that arena as well.
“How many great wrestlers are math wizards like William?” the coach asked. “He’s so cerebral and intelligent. With that, some people may think he'll be meek, but it’s very different when the wrestling starts. Don’t let him fool you.”
Not too many people in the area are fooled. He’s ranked first in the Empire State at 132 pounds, a weight he makes without cutting. He recently won his first Eastern States title and has already topped the #2 and #3 ranked grapplers in New York. [He’s 33-1 overall with 25 bonus point victories].
And while he won’t achieve his preseason objective of a perfect record after taking third at the tough King of the Mountain tournament in Pennsylvania [with a one-point setback against nationally-ranked Cameron Coy], he’s on track to finish his career with a flourish.
“I didn’t manage to go undefeated, but it’s ok as long as I win the state title,” Koll said. “I'll be pretty satisfied with that.”
If he does earn first place at the Times Union Center for the third time, he will move ahead of Kyle Dake on the Lansing leaderboard, as Dake captured two state titles with the Bobcats.
Speaking of Dake, Koll mentioned listening closely to the four-time NCAA champion’s advice, especially prior to his last high school season.
“Kyle always says stress isn’t real, it’s just something you make up in your mind,” Koll said. “I’ve been taking that to heart. I’ve blamed pressure in the past for my own shortcomings, but it’s my nature to put pressure on myself. I think this year, I’ve managed to relax. I’ve learned that there’s no point in doing anything, including wrestling, if you’re not enjoying it.”
Harrington believes he’s seen a transformation in Koll this year, both in his skill level and in the fun he's having on the mat.
“In the past, I think he’s felt that all eyes were on him because of his name,” Harrington said. “I think at times he would rather have been Will Lewis or Will Smith. But he’s embraced it now. He has a different confidence, a different way he goes about things. I can’t say enough good things about him – he’s very mature, super humble. Cornell is getting a great kid. But that’s not a surprise to anyone there.”
Will Koll wanted to thank Connor Lapresi (now a freshman at Bucknell) for “helping me become the wrestler I am today”. He also mentioned his current training partner at Lansing, Greg Lee, “who has been there for me and has made me better” and Ithaca High School’s Julian Korfine, a state champion swimmer who switched to wrestling. “I respect him so much. It’s not easy to go from the top where he was in swimming to another sport where you’re more of a novice. He’s done so much to help me.”
And Koll gave special thanks to his family and his coaches.