The Princeton wrestling team opened its Ivy League season with a pair of home matches Feb. 5 and a trip to No. 20 Penn Feb. 6. With two starters out and another going down in the Brown match, the Tigers finished 1-2 and are now 5-9 overall.
For a team that has struggled mightily in the past but has begun a steady recovery under the direction of head coach Chris Ayres, the weekend was still a bit disappointing. The team had lost starting 174-pounder Ryan Callahan ’14 and starting 141-pounder Zach Bintliff ’13 to injuries a week ago, and 149-pounder Brandon Rolnick ’14 went down against Brown.
“Honestly, it was a tough weekend,” Ayres said. “I’m a little upset. I’m not upset generally with the way the guys wrestled. It was not impossible to win, but it would’ve taken a lot. Coming into the season I felt that we definitely had a shot against Penn and figured we could definitely beat Harvard and Brown. It was a little disappointing to head into the weekend to have guys out. Because we have the smallest roster in the Ivy League, it makes it very hard.”
The Harvard match certainly was a disappointment. Princeton annihilated the Crimson, 35-10, in Cambridge last season and seemed to be off to a shellacking early on. Sophomore Garrett Frey, currently ranked 17th in the nation among 125-pounders, gave the Tigers an early six-point lead with a pin of Steven Keith. The teams split the next two bouts before Princeton won at 149 pounds by forfeit to go up 15-3.
Then came the collapse. Princeton lost the next six bouts, including four by three points or less. With the match tied at 15, 197-pounder Dan Santoro lost an intense 3-2 decision to Bryan Panzano. Harvard went up 18-15 and won at heavyweight as well, securing the win.
Between matches, Ayres was quick and to the point with his team.
“The only thing I told them is that we can leave this day feeling really bad or we can leave this day feeling pretty good,” Ayres said. “If we come back and beat Brown, we’ll feel pretty good. Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but I can promise if we don’t come back and wrestle hard, we’re gonna feel really bad.”
Frey got Princeton off to a quick start against Brown with a 7-1 decision over Billy Watterson. But the Tigers dropped three matches in a row to fall behind 12-3. Junior 157-pounder Daniel Kolodzik steadied the ship with a comprehensive 8-1 decision over Philip Marano, but Brown 165-pounder Dave Foxen responded with a major decision victory over Gregory Ott at 165. The Bears led 16-6.
The Tigers were resilient. Andy Lowy ’12 scored a solid 8-2 decision at 174 pounds before senior 184-pounder Travis Erdman earned a pin in his match. The nine points put Princeton right back in the match.
The crowd, as energetic as any that Princeton wrestling has seen in recent years, roared when 197-pounder Dan Santoro ’14 knocked off Brandon Schull 3-1 to put the Tigers ahead 18-16. Heavyweight Charles Fox ’13 then faced Tyler Cowman with everything on the line. Their bout went to overtime before Fox scored a late takedown to secure a 3-1 victory.
Ayres was particularly enthused about Fox’s win, calling it “a moment he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”
Against Penn, Kolodzik and Erdman notched Princeton’s only victories. The Tigers forfeited at 174 pounds and lost every other match as Ayres continued to juggle an injury-ridden roster.
The weekend exemplifies a greater theme to their season. Princeton has had its highlights, including an 18-16 victory at ECAC power Bucknell, a team that had beaten Princeton 38-6 a year earlier. Ayres called it the biggest win of his tenure, now in its fifth year.
But the Tigers still are not where they want to be. Ayres has done a good job of recruiting, with Frey as his best find so far. But the team remains somewhat undermanned and has yet to seriously challenge Penn or Cornell, the two dominant Ivy squads.
Looking forward, the team is focused on qualifying as many wrestlers as possible for the NCAA Championships. The tournament will be held in Philadelphia, and alumni have already secured a box at the arena.
“We definitely want to finish strong in dual meets,” Ayres said. “But it really comes down to EIWAs and qualifying guys for the nationals. A lot of guys have aspirations of being at the NCAA tournament, especially since we had [Frey] go last year.”