In Historic Matchup, Princeton Wrestling Looks to Take Down Rutgers in the “Battle of the Birthplace”
Ever since that first fateful 1869 football game, Princeton and Rutgers University, the flagship state university of New Jersey, have traveled down quite different paths. One is a private, liberal-arts oriented university, the other a sprawling public research institution and a member of the Big 10, one of the largest athletic conferences in the United States. But this Saturday, any differences between the two universities will be forgotten on the wrestling mat, as the two prepare for quite possibly the largest collegiate sporting event in New Jersey history. In the aptly-named “Battle of the Birthplace,” the Tigers will take on the No. 10 Scarlet Knights in High Point Solutions stadium before an estimated crowd of 15,000 people.
The Tigers come into the meet with one of the most talented rosters in school history. Riding an extremely successful 2015 season that saw Princeton narrowly lose the Ivy League title to perennial frontrunner Cornell and Brett Harner attain All-American status, the Tigers return Harner and several other NCAA qualifiers, such as seniors Jordan Laster and Raymond O’Donnell. Six Princeton wrestlers are ranked in the top 20 of their weight category. Laster, who is also a captain for the team, also emphasized the quality of the new talent on the team and the degree to which the Tigers expect them to contribute to the team’s success, saying, “In order to reach our team goals, we need some new faces to step up. I am looking at Ty Agaisse and Matt Kolodzik to really contribute in a big way. They both work hard and will likely be our starters. I am fully confident in their abilities.”
Rutgers, a member of arguably the best wrestling conference in the nation, will certainly be a challenge for the Tigers. Ranked No. 10 in the nation after three impressive wins, they consistently turn out some of the most talented wrestlers in the nation; coming in this Saturday for the Scarlet Knights will be the nation’s No. 3-ranked wrestler in the 141-pound category, Anthony Ashnault, and the No. 6-ranked wrestler in the 157-pound category, Richie Lewis. Princeton has dropped the last 19 matches to Rutgers, but Coach Christopher Ayres has reason to be optimistic this year when he says, “We want the "NJ BIG/Ivy Trophy. Rutgers is one of our biggest rivals and I would love to win in such an amazing environment.”
As for wrestling in front of the largest crowd ever assembled in the Rutgers stadium? Coach Ayres, a long-time Jersey resident, notes, “This will be the second largest attended dual meet in history and the largest in the state of New Jersey. It is not often in life that you get to be a part of history, so to just be a part of something like this is cool.” And the Tigers couldn’t be more ready to roll Saturday. Laster spoke of the team’s preparation and energy, explaining, “We were able to wrestle at the Southeast Open two weeks ago so we are battle ready… our training for the event has been tough, but the optimizing factor is having fun. I have always wrestled my best in the NCAA tournament because it is fun to have thousands of people watching and supporting you.” Here’s to the men’s wrestling season achieving yet another breakthrough this weekend by beating Rutgers.