What a season it has been for the Princeton Tigers men’s wrestling team.
This year, the Tigers have established themselves as a strong wrestling program to be respected and feared. It’s been a season of broken streaks and of record performances. From stopping a 24-game losing streak against Penn, to placing second in the Ivy League for the first time since 1986, to scoring a 5thplace finish in the EIWA championships –the best in 38 years –there are seldom any wrestling seasons in Princeton history that can match this one in success.
Though Princeton has sent wrestlers to the NCAA championships every year, the confidence and preparation of this year’s group was extraordinary. Juniors Jordan Laster and Ray O’Donnell each obtained seeds by virtue of their strong performance in the EIWA championships and sophomore Jonathan Schleifer received an at-large bid. Rounding out Princeton’s quartet of wrestlers was junior Brett Harner, the 197-pound EIWA champion who entered the championships ranked 11thin the nation. With the exception of O’Donnell, all of them had had at least one year of experience wrestling in the NCAA championships.
Princeton’s wrestlers faced strong competition from the nation’s best contenders, but all four put up spirited fights against their opponents. Schleifer encountered tough opponents in Appalachian State’s Nick Kee and then a surprisingly-upset third-ranked Blaise Butler of University of Missouri in the consolation round; though he fought valiantly against both foes, nearly besting Kee in his opening round match, Schleifer ultimately went 0-2 and was eliminated. Though Laster and O’Donnell each lost their opening round bouts, they both scored decisive victories in their consolation round matchups and earned a chance to enter the Round of Twelve. Ultimately, however, both would fall in tough matches in the consolation rounds before being able to enter. O’Donnell would jump out to take the lead against Wyoming’s Tyler Harms with a takedown, but would eventually be taken down himself and eliminated. Laster would defeat his next opponent, Brock Zacherl, coming back from an early takedown and earning him two matches won in his NCAA run. The next round, however, he took on Nebraska’s Anthony Abidin; though Laster had previously squeaked out a victory over Abidin earlier in the season, Abidin was able to get the better of the Princeton wrestler and eliminate him from the consolation round.
Harner was able to advance to the quarterfinals, first eliminating Arizona State’s Joshua Dasilveira in a thrilling sudden-death matchup and later taking down higher-ranked Maxwell Huntley of the University of Michigan. However, in his quarterfinal matchup, Harner drew first-ranked J’Den Cox of Missouri. Cox took Harner down 6-0 and would go on to seize the 197-pound championship. Harner would rebound with a win over Oklahoma State’s Preston Weigel in his Round of Twelve matchup to claim All-American status. He is only the ninthwrestler in Princeton history to do so, and the first since Greg Parker, who reached the national championship match in his historic 2003 season.
Though the Tigers weren’t able to secure any championship titles in their NCAA run, they have capped off one of the most monumental and important seasons in Princeton history. For years, the Tigers have struggled to replicate the success and glory of the past; this year, anchored both by veterans and a crop of talented new wrestlers, they re-established themselves as a strong program. We look excitedly to next year’s wrestling season, where the Tigers have the chance to improve even further on this year’s success.