High hopes for the Princeton wrestling team’s Ivy League season came to a head over the weekend, as the Tigers took a 3-0 record in Ivy competition into their final conference matches against Columbia and Cornell Feb. 13. After defeating Columbia 23-13, the Tigers fell just short of the conference title in a 23-16 loss to Cornell.
After posting nail-biting victories in their first three conference matches against Penn, Harvard, and Brown, the Tigers took control of Columbia on Saturday afternoon by winning four of the first six bouts. Five of the Tigers racked up bonus points in major-decision victories, including freshman 149-pounder Mike D’Angelo and freshman 125-pounder Pat D’Arcy. With the Tigers leading 19-13 going into the final bout at 141 pounds, junior Jordan Laster sealed the victory for Princeton with a dominant major decision over Columbia’s Joe Moita.
Princeton’s win over Columbia on Saturday afternoon, coupled with Cornell’s victory at Penn earlier that day, set up Saturday evening’s match to decide which of the two undefeated Ivy sides would take the conference title. Looking to claim their 14th consecutive Ivy League championship, the Big Red took control early against the Tigers, winning six of the first seven bouts to build an insurmountable lead. Princeton had its bright spots, though, including a dominant performance from Laster over Cornell’s Mark Grey. Close bouts for D’Angelo and senior 157-pounder Adam Krop did not go the Tigers’ way, and after the 174-pound bout Cornell led the team score 23-3.
The Tigers fought to narrow the difference, winning the final three bouts to energize the crowd at Dillon Gymnasium. Senior 184-pounder Abram Ayala posted his second victory of the day, as did junior captain and 197-pounder Brett Harner. It was the final bout that brought the crowd to its feet, though, as junior heavyweight Ray O’Donnell pinned Cornell’s Jeramy Sweany to bring the final team score to 23-16 in favor of Cornell. Despite the loss, the Tigers saw plenty of good takeaways from their performance on Saturday and in recent weeks.
“Overall, I felt we put on some of our best performances as a team,” Laster said. “We stayed aggressive and had fun out there. It’s awesome to see just how much our program has separated itself from the other Ivy teams in my time here. Unfortunately we lost to Cornell, but the final score was 23-16 so we are closing the gap.”
The Tigers (8-7 overall) will conclude their regular season schedule Feb. 18 when they square off against in-state rival Rider. Princeton will then have time off until they host the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships on March 5-6, in hopes of taking the EIWA title and clinching as many spots as possible to the NCAA Championships.
“We have a stable of talented wrestlers who have trained harder and more intelligently than any other team in the nation,” Ayala said. “But that doesn’t guarantee success, nothing does. To succeed, we have to bring all of our tools to the mat, without fear of failure. For our team, at this stage, success is a matter of faith in our preparation and courage in competition, and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing over the past few weeks.”