In 1978, a dominant Princeton men’s wrestling team captured the EIWA title. In the history of Princeton wrestling, this was perhaps one of the strongest squads of all time: the 1978 team went on to claim 14th in the NCAA championships that year.
Since then, the Tigers have not placed within the top five of the tournament. After all, the EIWA features some of the toughest and most highly-ranked wrestling teams nationally, like Bucknell, Lehigh and perennial Ivy League champion Cornell. But after a tremendously successful season, including taking down rival Penn for the first time in 24 matchups and wrestling for the Ivy League championships for the first time in 30 years against Cornell, the Tigers are imbued with confidence and will. Though coming off a tough 17-16 loss to in-state rival Rider, Princeton hopes to make this year’s EIWA championships a historic one, as well as an auspicious beginning to the wrestling postseason.
The Tigers will be represented by freshmen Pat D’Arcy, Noah Ajram and Mike D’Angelo; sophomore Jonathan Schleifer; juniors Jordan Laster, Brett Harner and Ray O’Donnell; and seniors Adam Krop, Judd Ziegler and Abram Ayala. Realistically, the Tigers probably won’t be in contention for the EIWA title: Cornell and Lehigh, both top-ranked squads, will be the overwhelming favorites. But the Tigers are looking for a high, top-five spot, meaning they must overcome tough teams from Navy, Drexel, Penn, Columbia and American. While Princeton has defeated Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia, it suffered a close 18-16 loss to Navy earlier in the season.
For every Princeton wrestler, the EIWA championship is a special moment, the culmination of a season’s worth of hard work. For some, the reason may be even more significant: throughout the tournament, 51 bids to the prestigious NCAA wrestling championships, where EIWA wrestlers will face off against the best wrestlers nationwide, will be given out. The Tigers hope to claim at least one individual title; the last time a Princetonian placed first in an EIWA event was in 2003.
One of the exciting weights to look at is the 174-pound category, where 20-11 Jonathan Schleifer, a finalist last year, will go against some of the strongest wrestlers nationwide in his category, including Penn’s Casey Kent, who narrowly defeated Schleifer earlier this season. At the 141-pound bracket, Laster, also a previous EIWA finalist, will face stiff competition from Randy Cruz of Lehigh and Todd Preston of Harvard; Laster lost narrowly to both opponents earlier this season and will be looking to earn his revenge on the mat this weekend. 18-9 Ayala, who has qualified for the NCAA tournament twice prior, faces one of the most stacked categories at the 184-pound. Though seeded relatively low, he’ll have the chance to play underdog against a few wrestlers who won narrow victories over him earlier in the season, including Lehigh’s nationally-ranked Nathaniel Brown, and possibly be able to face off against reigning NCAA national champion Gabe Dean of Cornell. 23-9 O’Donnell, in the 275-pound category, is one of the highest-ranked wrestlers in his weight category, while perhaps Princeton’s best chance of clinching an individual title is 28-3 Brett Harner in the 197-pound category. Harner, the top seed in the tournament, is ranked 12th nationally and has only suffered one loss to a wrestler in the tournament, Navy’s Michael Woulfe.
Though they have traditionally been unable to reach the top ranks of the ferocious EIWA conference, the Princeton men’s wrestling team looks to cap off this groundbreaking season with an impressive finish in the EIWA tournament. The skill, confidence and maturity that the team has earned this season look to pay dividends on the mat this weekend.