Coming off a monumental season last year, the Princeton wrestling team has high expectations for its performance this season. Bolstered by a strong corps of returning NCAA qualifiers, spearheaded by All-American Brett Harner, and featuring a tough freshman class led by standout wrestler Matthew Kolodzik, the Tigers have cracked into the top 25 numerous times and have been recognized as one of the nation’s most vibrant programs.
It’s also been a season of heartbreaking losses, however, as Princeton has faced some of wrestling’s marquee programs. In just the first half of the season, the Tigers faced off against Rutgers, Nebraska, and Lehigh, all programs ranked nationally in the top 20. Princeton also kicked off the 2017 season with a tough battle at home against the nation’s No. 6 program, Virginia Tech. Despite being immense underdogs, the Tigers clinched three victories, with Kolodzik and sophomores Pat D’Arcy and Mike D’Angelo winning their matches, and started out the meet with an 11-7 lead. Ultimately, however, the Hokies would bring six wrestlers ranked nationally in the top 10 of their weight class, an onslaught to which the outmatched Tigers had no answer.
A similar fate would befall the Tigers in a later New York bout with No. 22 Stanford. Once again, Princeton started the meet well: Team captains and seniors Jordan Laster and Brett Harner both took down their opponents, with Harner scoring an exciting marquee win over the Cardinal’s top-ranked Josh Marchok. Meanwhile, two other Tigers scored crucial upset victories, with senior Ray O’Donnell felling No. 10Nathan Butler and freshman Ty Agaisse nabbing a stunning 3-2 victory over No. 14 Gabriel Townsell on a late takedown. Stanford, however, would ultimately take the 22-12 victory over Princeton.
Despite these losses, Princeton has rallied to an impressive 3-0 start in the Ivy League. The Tigers opened Ivy play by decisively trouncing Penn 28-8, with No. 17 Jonathan Schleifer, recently returned from an injury, scoring a major upset victory over Penn’s No. 8 Casey Kent. This past weekend, the Tigers built on their momentum, crushing Brown and Harvard 32-6 and 33-3, respectively, and establishing themselves as one of the strongest contenders in the Ivy League.
Buoyed by their victories, a hungry Princeton team now looks to end Cornell’s three decade-long Ivy championship streak. Back in 1986, Princeton was the last team other than the Big Red to clinch the title. Now, the Tigers will enter the match as significant underdogs. No. 9 Cornell, though relatively shorthanded this year, still boasts a score of All-Americans and two NCAA tournament finalists and has taken down, among other squads, Rutgers, Lehigh, and the University of Oklahoma, all teams that have spent some time this season ranked in the top 10. But the right combination of skill, luck, and perseverance may lead the Tigers to accomplish what no other team in the Ivy has done for 30 years. Princeton will head to Columbia first on Friday before entering its showdown against the Big Red on Sunday night.