The wrestling team kicked off its dual meet scheduleon Sundayin New York City, which is where the Tigers hope to finish their season in March at the 2016 NCAA Championships. The Tigers wrestled Hofstra and Nebraska at Madison Square Garden duringSunday’sGrapple at the Garden and then squared off against Illinois at the New York Athletic Club.
The Tigers began the day on a strong note, avenging last season’s loss to Hofstra with a dominant 33-9 victory. The Tigers racked up team points across weight classes, with freshman 125-pounder Patrick D’Arcy and junior 197-pounder Brett Harner pinning their opponents and senior 165-pounder Judd Ziegler and senior 184-pounder Abram Ayala adding victories by major decision. The Tigers only lost three of ten bouts, with each of those losses decided by margins of two points or less.
Princeton fell to No. 4 Nebraska, but by a much closer margin than last season’s 38-6 defeat in Dillon Gymnasium. After losing the first two bouts, the Tigers got on the board when junior 141-pounder Jordan Laster scored an upset over No. 13 Anthony Abidin with a 2-1 decision. Senior 149-pounder Chris Perez followed with a victory over No. 5 Jake Sueflohn in a nail-biting 12-10 victory. With the team score at 7-6 in favor of Nebraska, the Cornhuskers took the next four bouts to go up 21-6. Harner won in sudden victory to add to the Tigers’ total, and junior heavyweight Ray O’Donnell scored an upset over No. 13 Collin Jensen to bring the final team score to 21-12.
The last time Princeton wrestled Illinois in 2012, the Tigers lost all ten bouts in a 41-0 thrashing. The result was much closeron Sundayafternoon, as the Tigers fell to the No. 13 Fighting Illini by just five points. The Tigers took three of the first four bouts to lead 9-5 but lost the next four bouts to trail 20-9. Once again, Harner grabbed a hard-fought victory and O’Donnell battled to another win over a nationally ranked opponent, this time upending No. 14 Brooks Black. Although the final team score was 20-15 in favor of Illinois, the Tigers had a lot of positives that they took away from their victory over Hofstra and battles against tough Big Ten competition.
“I’d say this weekend was a good test,” Perez said. “Coach [Chris] Ayres modeled these dual meets to replicate the NCAA tournament and I think we had some great things to take away from the weekend and some things to learn from. We were a couple good breaks away from knocking off two top teams and some of us were able to get some good individual wins as well.”
Perez stressed the long-term importance of facing tough opponents early in the season.
“Overall it was important to see that top competition and see what it takes to be All-Americans and national champs,” Perez said. “Our schedule is tough and should prepare us for the real test in March.”
Despite Princeton’s 1-2 performanceon Sunday, the strength and potential that the Tigers demonstrated throughout the month of November was recognized in the updated national rankings. According to the USA Today/NWCA Coaches rankings from Dec. 1, the Tigers are now ranked in the top 25 in the country, tied with Northern Iowa at the No. 25 spot.
With tough matches this weekend against Northwestern and No. 12 Lehigh, the Tigers have potential to further increase their profile on the national stage and position themselves as team contenders at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships in March. Princeton will square off against Northwestern at11 a.m. on Saturday and Lehigh at2 p.m. Both matches will be held in Dillon Gymnasium.