Princeton wrestling caps historic season with third-place finish in EIWA Championships, Top 25 finish in NCAA Tournament| Mar 30, 2017
Ivy and EIWA Coach of the Year Chris Ayres wanted to bring the Princeton wrestling program into national prominence. Speaking about the gradual, often painstaking rise of the Tigers as serious national contenders, Ayres noted, “Our program has come a long, long way in the past 10 years, with a lot of people sacrificing to elevate it to this point.”
Now, the Tigers emerge from their postseason as one of the most successful wrestling squads in the history of Princeton wrestling. They've achieved a third-place finish in the EIWA tournament. A historic high of seven qualifiers to the NCAA tournament. And, at long last, a top-25 finish in the NCAA tournament and the second Princeton All-American in a row.
The season wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Tigers, who faced perhaps one of the most challenging schedules in all of Division 1 collegiate wrestling. Oftentimes, Princeton found itself on the opposite side of the mat from the sport’s cream of the crop: Nebraska, Virginia Tech, and Stanford. Add that to competing in one of the most rigorous conferences in college wrestling, the EIWA, and the challenges that the Tigers faced become immediately apparent.
But through both discouragement and success, the Tigers remained hungry and humble, relying both on a corps of talented veterans, spearheaded by seniors Jordan Laster and All-American Brett Harner, and a bright crop of underclassmen, led by perhaps the most talented wrestler to walk the halls of Jadwin in recent years, freshman Matthew Kolodzik. The team's progress became immediately apparent over the course of the season, as they easily dismantled Ivy League rivals Columbia, Penn, Brown, and Harvard by a combined score of 125-23 before falling in a tough struggle against a top-10 Cornell team.
The Tigers then turned their attention to the EIWA championships. Last year, Princeton attained its best finish in almost four decades, finishing fifth. It took one year to beat that record, with Ayres’s squad clawing to a third-place conference finish in one of the sport’s most challenging and competitive conferences, only falling narrowly to a Lehigh squad that had handed Princeton a decisive defeat less than two months before. Two Tigers, Laster and Kolodzik, stood on top of the podium at the end of the tournament, and a record seven Tigers found themselves with tickets to St. Louis, where they would compete on the national stage in the NCAA Championships.
Confronted once again with the best competition in the sport, no one would blame the Tigers for feeling intimidated during the championship tournament. Instead, the Tigers bit back viciously, showing spunk and spark in every bout on the mat, win or loss. Kolodzik swallowed a devastating quarterfinal loss to emerge with 30 season victories, a seventh-place finish, and an All-American title. Captains Laster and Harner and senior heavyweight Ray O’Donnell, though not advancing as far as Kolodzik, fought the last matches of their career with heart and spunk. Key upset wins such as sophomore Pat D’Arcy’s first-round triumph over Iowa State’s Earl Hall helped propel the Tigers to a coveted top-25 finish in the tournament, yet another milestone achieved in a season of historic highs for Princeton.
It would be a season enough to leave any coach and team complacent, but Princeton wrestling isn’t ready to fade out of the spotlight any time soon. While the team suffers graduation losses from Harner, O’Donnell, and Laster, perhaps they will be more than made up for by a talented — and now experienced — group of underclassman wrestlers. Who will be the difference-maker next season for the Tigers? A sophomore Kolodzik, seeking to better his freshman All-American campaign? A calm, collected senior leader in Jonathan Schleifer? Rising juniors D’Arcy and Mike D’Angelo, both of whom beat tough odds to reach the first NCAA tournaments of their careers? The possibilities are truly exciting.