Wrestling coach Chris Ayres came into this season with a highly touted freshman class and an ambitious schedule to match, featuring eight dual meets against nationally ranked teams. The Tigers seemed up to the task in November, when they surged to a 12–7 lead at No. 15 Wisconsin. But after dropping a couple of competitive bouts, they fell to the Badgers, 22–18.
Afterward, Ayres was fuming. “It was there for the taking, and we let it slip from us,” he said. “It was one of the few times in my career as a coach here that I really laid into the team.” The wrestlers didn’t sulk, he said. Instead, they had their own locker-room meeting, away from the coaches, taking ownership of the loss.
Ayres took that as a good sign — a hunch that was validated two weeks later when Princeton faced another highly ranked team, No. 8 Lehigh, and came through with a 21–19 upset win.
Beating Lehigh, one of the region’s perennial powers, “lets us know we belong,” Ayres said. It also may have been the tipping point in a historic season. Consider the two months that followed: Princeton ended an 18-match losing streak against local rival Rider; standouts Matthew Kolodzik ’20 (149 pounds) and Patrick Brucki ’21 (197 pounds) won their weight classes at the Midlands Championships, the program’s first two champions at that prestigious invitational; and the Tigers defeated No. 15 North Carolina shortly before entering a two-week break for fall-term exams.
Even Princeton’s losses have shined with promise. Against No. 3 Oklahoma State Jan. 12, Kolodzik and Brucki each defeated top-10 opponents, and Quincy Monday ’22 and Lenny Merkin ’20 scored wins at 157 and 165 pounds, respectively.
The ultimate barometer for just how far Princeton has come will be its Feb. 9 match at Cornell, the Ivy League champion in each of the last 16 seasons. The Tigers haven’t beaten the Big Red head-to-head since 1986. Could this be the year? Ayres was loath to look that far ahead in January, but with a healthy lineup, he said, “I think we can do it.”
The Tigers’ success has been led by Kolodzik, a two-time All-American and two-time EIWA champion who is undefeated this season. He’s vying to become the program’s first NCAA champion since 1951. “He’s our trailblazer,” Ayres said.
Close behind is Brucki, a sophomore captain and the team’s emotional leader, who ranks third in the nation in his weight class. Brucki “leads competitively,” in Ayres’ words. He had a 6–4 advantage with 12 seconds left in his bout against Oklahoma State’s Dakota Geer and could have stalled as the clock ran out. Instead, he went on the attack, scoring a takedown to finish off a convincing win.
Princeton’s newest star is Pat Glory ’22, ranked No. 10 at 125 pounds. He opened the year 16–3, with all three losses coming against wrestlers ranked among the nation’s top four. Glory is one of four freshmen in a starting lineup that did not include any seniors in the first eight dual meets.