A picture of Brett Harner ’17 hangs in the subterranean wrestling room at Jadwin Gym. It shows him on the podium after earning eighth place in the 197-pound division at last year’s NCAA Championships, the first All-American finish for a Princeton wrestler since 2003, when Greg Parker ’03 was eighth at 184 pounds.
Harner calls it “the most surreal moment of my life.”
The picture hides what Harner looks like most days on campus: a bespectacled, mild-mannered economics major with an offer to return to sales and trading at JPMorgan Chase & Co. after graduation.
“He looks like a geek,” Tigers head coach Chris Ayres joked. “He’s very scholarly. He’s pretty laid back off the mat.”
On the mat, though, Harner is a storm of intensity. He blossomed after arriving from Norristown (Pa.) Area High School, where his father was head coach and two older brothers preceded him on the path to success in college wrestling.
“He does everything right,” Ayres said. “He’s got his school in line, his schedule’s perfect, he does all the right things. He’s probably the best leader I’ve ever had, here or at Lehigh. You do the right things every day, good things will happen.”
Being All-American seemed a lofty goal until Harner watched several opponents do well at the NCAA Championships at the end of his freshman season. His own chance that year was hampered by a torn meniscus in his knee. He suffered another injury at the end of his sophomore year but still reached the NCAAs and won one match — a sign that All-American status was just a few steps away. “It made it more tangible for me,” Harner said. “I was right there.”
Harner returned last year more determined than ever. Before a home crowd at Jadwin, he won the Tigers’ first individual EIWA championship since Parker in 2003, and in the thrill of that achievement he told Ayres he wasn’t done yet. Harner made good on his promise when he took eighth at nationals to cap a 36–6 season.
Harner said the NCAA meet “removed any sort of glass ceiling in my mind that might have been there.” And not just for Harner: His podium finish has given his teammates inspiration.
“Now they’re following that draft of what he did,” Ayres said. “It builds a lot of momentum within the program. This year, it’s ridiculous how much better the training and the collective attitude has been. This has the makings to be a special team.”
Princeton is building off its best EIWA team finish since 1978, and Harner is trying to improve his All-American finish and earn another picture on the wall, to match that of the only national champion in program history, Bradley Glass ’53.