After a two-week break from competition, wrestling (6–5, 2–0 Ivy) began its busy weekend with dominating victories against Harvard University (1–7, 1–5 EIWA) and Brown University (4–6, 2–5 EIWA). But in a battle for the unofficial New Jersey state wrestling title, the team fared worse, falling to Rutgers University (9–5, 2–3 Big 10) by just one point.
In the first of two Saturday home meets, Princeton faced Harvard. First-year Patrick Glory, No. 10 at 125, opened the dual with a win. After back-to-back losses from sophomore Jonathon Gomez at 133 and freshman Marshall Keller at 141, Princeton’s next wrestler got the team back on track.
But the Tigers’ 149-pounder was not the usually undefeated No. 1 junior Matthew Kolodzik, a favorite for this year’s NCAA championship. Instead, it was first-year Josh Breeding, who walked off the mat with an 11–3 victory and the first dual win of his collegiate career under his belt. Breeding’s success animated his teammates; Princeton claimed five of its next six matches, with No. 3 sophomore Patrick Brucki posting his 20th win of the season.
In all, the match ended 31–12 for the Tigers. Despite the impressive margin, however, Princeton’s wrestlers weren’t satisfied.
“We were definitely pretty rusty,” Glory said. “A win is obviously nice, but we didn’t wrestle our best.”
Just hours after the showing against Harvard, Princeton faced Brown. Last year, the Tigers fell 15–17 to the Bears, losing their shot at an Ivy League title in the process.
In a stunning showing, Princeton avenged last year’s defeat. First-years Travis Stefanik and Quincy Monday, Brucki, Glory, Gomez, Keller, and Kolodzik all earned victories; the day ended with a definitive 25–10 win for the Tigers.
The real challenge of the weekend was still ahead. On Sunday, Princeton traveled to New Brunswick to take on No. 18 Rutgers. Both teams had snagged wins against Rider University earlier in the season; at stake was the title of New Jersey’s best wrestling program.
Glory began the dual with an exciting victory, turning and pinning opponent Shane Metzler with just one second remaining in a match that head coach Christopher Ayres called “absolutely incredible.”
After Gomez lost by technical fall, things didn’t seem to be going much better for 141-pounder Keller. But he overcame an early takedown from Rutgers’s Mike Van Brill, battling his way to an 8–5 victory.
At 149 pounds came one of the most anticipated matches of the wrestling season: a faceoff between No. 1 Kolodzik and Rutgers’s No. 2 Anthony Ashnault, both undefeated. Three days earlier, head coach Ayres had made a bold claim: Ashnault would not score a point on Kolodzik. That seemed to strike a nerve with the Rutgers star. In the last seconds of the match, in front of a crowd of 5,200 Rutgers fans, Ashnault, leading 10–2, held up a defiant ten fingers towards Princeton’s bench. He walked off the mat the nation’s new top wrestler.
But for Kolodzik’s teammates, the unexpected outcome of the match did not change their perception of – or admiration for – him.
“Matt’s in a great place,” said Brucki. “We’re confident he’s going to get that win in March and be at the top of the podium at the NCAA championships.”
Coach Ayres echoed him. “The loss actually helps Matt,” he said. “If we hadn’t seen that match, we would have had a problem at NCAAs. Now that we’ve seen the match, seen the loss, we’re going to solve some problems.”
And, said Stefanik, when Kolodzik fell short, the rest of the team battled extra hard. Sophomore Dale Tiongson, junior Kevin Parker, and Stefanik appeared in three consecutive overtime matches. Brucki dominated, as has become his custom. And sophomore heavyweight Kendall Elfstrum put up an admirable fight against an opponent 50 pounds his heavier.
The day did not end in Princeton’s favor, however — the final score stood at 19–18 for Rutgers. But to the wrestlers, the result didn’t matter.
“We were scrappy,” Brucki said. “We did our jobs.”
Stefanik agreed. “We showed that we’re right up there with the best teams,” he said. “We can compete with anyone.”
This weekend will serve as the ultimate test for that claim. Princeton will face Cornell in Ithaca; the Big Red has reigned victorious over the Ivy League for the past 16 years.
“From where we started as a program,” said Ayres, “Cornell’s coach never thought we’d ever be a factor in his world.” But Princeton’s wrestlers are ready to show Coach Kole just how far they’ve come.
“We’re going to do what we always do,” Brucki said. “Wrestle hard, try to impress some fans, let some guns fly, and see what happens:”