Nearly a year ago, the Princeton wrestling team turned heads across the country by sending half of its starting lineup to the NCAA Championships, after sending just one wrestler the season before.
This winter, the question is not whether this season’s squad will match last year’s team, but rather how much further it can go. The Tigers outperformed their early-season results from a year ago, placing first at the Navy Classic in November and eighth at the prestigious Midlands Championships in December, the program’s best-ever finish in the 53-year-old tournament. Returning eight of 10 starters from last season, Princeton’s lineup may be among the deepest in school history.
The Tigers will be put to the test in February as they face the heart of Ivy League competition. They travel to New England Feb. 6–7 to face off against Harvard and Brown, and conclude their Ivy schedule at home the following weekend, taking on Columbia and defending-champion Cornell Feb. 13.
“This season has the potential to be a very special one,” senior 149-pounder Chris Perez said in January. “We’re a very dangerous team when we’re at 100 percent, so we’re very excited to have a full lineup heading into this part of the season.”
Captain Brett Harner ’17, who competes in the 197-pound weight class, said the team’s “overall intensity and motivation” enabled its impressive tournament results. If the Tigers continue to improve, he added, they can contend for the Ivy title — a goal that has eluded Princeton since 1986.
The Tigers have high hopes for the postseason as well. With Jadwin Gym hosting this year’s Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships March 5–6 and the NCAA Championships coming to Madison Square Garden two weeks later, head coach Chris Ayres and his wrestlers are hoping to make the most of the chance to compete in front of alumni and local fans.
“We have a good team that can make a lot of noise, and I’d like us to make a lot of noise in Jadwin,” Ayres said. “We’re in a good spot — eighth at Midlands is a good indicator that we can do well at [the EIWA meet]. I’m asking myself, ‘Why can’t we win it?’ We have the firepower, and I am so excited. For where our team is now, it just seems fitting that we should have it here this year.”