In its final weekend of dual competition, the wrestling team (9-9, 6-7 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) faced stiff competition from opponents both in and out of the conference. The Tigers fell to EIWA rivals Rider University and University of Pennsylvaniaon Fridayevening andSaturdayafternoon, respectively, before falling to Big 10 opponent University of Nebraska at homeon Saturdayevening.
Similar to last year’s match against Rider,Friday’smatch against the Broncs consisted of constant swings in momentum for both sides. After Rider took the first two bouts, Princeton responded with strong one-point wins from sophomore 141-pounder Jordan Laster and junior 149-pounder Chris Perez. Three straight decisions followed for the Broncs, though, giving Rider an 18-6 advantage heading into the final three matches. Despite three straight wins by sophomore 184-pounder Brett Harner, junior 197-pounder Abram Ayala and sophomore heavyweight Ray O’Donnell, the Tigers ultimately fell by an 18-15 margin.
The Tigers experienced their second close loss of the weekend against Penn in Philadelphia, as they fell by a team score of 19-12. Princeton and Penn exchanged victories during the first three bouts, but Penn took the lead for good as it rattled off four straight wins, two of which came in sudden victory, to go up by a 16-7 margin. The highlight of the match for Princeton came at 184 pounds, as Harner knocked off No. 5 Lorenzo Thomas by a 9-6 decision. Harner, who had 55 career victories going into the match against Thomas, has been on the fringe of breaking into the Top 20 at 184 pounds. The victory against Thomas, which marked Harner’s second straight weekend knocking off a former All-American, makes it quite likely that his name will show in this week’s rankings.
Upon finishing the match against Penn, the Tigers returned to Dillon Gymasium for a7:00 p.m. showdown with Nebraska. Despite the celebration of the team’s veterans in front of family and friends on Senior Night, the Tigers mightily struggled against the No. 10 Cornhuskers. Strong efforts came from freshman 165-pounder Jonathan Schleifer and Ayala, who picked up Princeton’s lone victories in a 38-6 team score differential. No. 12 Ayala provided the greatest excitement of the match, as he fended off No. 13 Aaron Studebaker by a narrow 3-2 margin.
Despite the tough weekend for the Tigers, the intensity of their recent practice and competition schedule took an understandable toll. With two weeks between now and the EIWA Championships, there is time to rest and prepare to fight for a berth to the NCAA Championships.
“The duals this past weekend were perfect simulations for the EIWA conference tournament in two weeks,” Laster said. “Our coach purposely placed the three tough duals back to back to simulate the stress we will feel both days at conferences. On top of that, we have been in a tough training phase the last three weeks. Most teams finished their tough training phase in January and are peaking now, but we haven't even begun our peaking phase. On that note, we wrestled Rider and Penn with lots of grit and definitely wrestled tougher than both teams. Bonus points in the Rider match and losing critical close matches in the Penn match were ultimately our downfall, but we went out and competed tough. As for Nebraska, they are a top ten team in the toughest conference, the Big Ten. They are great competitors and were a great measuring stick since they have multiple ranked individuals. We wrestled flat and lacked energy against them.”
“I think we all wrestled pretty tough against Rider and Penn, but the key tossup matches just didn’t go our way,” Harner said. “We went through a rough month of training, and now we’re going to taper off a little bit in order to peak for EIWAs.”
The Tigers will return to action on Friday, March 6, for Day 1 action at the EIWA Championships. This year’s tournament will be held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. Wrestlers from 16 different teams will gun for limited spots to the NCAA Championships, which will take placeMarch 19-21in St. Louis, Mo.