Last week, as Princeton wrestling (9–6 overall, 4–1 Ivy League) prepared to face Drexel University (4–11, 1–5) for the team’s last regular-season match, No. 3 junior captain Matthew Kolodzik offered a warning.
Kolodzik’s teammates — if not the wrestler himself — seem to have taken his advice. Thanks entirely to the team’s underclassmen, Princeton left Philadelphia with a commanding 27–13 win.
Up first in the heavyweight division, sophomore Kendall Elfstrum faced No. 14 Joey Goodhart. Goodhart had 68 pounds and a national ranking on Elfstrum; Drexel’s 12–2 major decision came as little surprise to Princeton’s bench.
“Every time Kendall goes out there, he wrestles hard,” said first-year Travis Stefanik. “But it’s so difficult to be able to use techniques and pull off a win when you’re giving up that much weight and strength.”
Then, No. 10 first-year Patrick Glory walked onto the mat, and the Tigers breathed a little easier. Glory won by fall only a minute and 49 seconds into the Drexel match.
“Glory is just special,” said men’s wrestling head coach Christopher Ayres. “He gets better every week. It’s scary. We have some good guys on the team. But I’ll say it: Glory is one of the best — if not the best — freshmen I’ve ever had.”
Glory’s win set the tone for the rest of the dual meet. 133-pound sophomore Jonathan Gomez won by fall in the first period, and 174-pound first-year Travis Stefanik earned a decision over his Drexel opponent. First-years Marshall Keller and Quincy Monday did the same at 141 and 157, respectively. And with those victories, both wrestlers had recorded their 20th win of the season.
“That was just awesome to see,” said No. 3 sophomore captain Patrick Brucki. “I’m so happy for those guys. It’s not very often you see true freshmen in Division I wrestling succeeding like they are. They work so hard.”
Brucki’s own hard work paid off at Drexel. Two weeks ago at Cornell, he faced the nation’s then-14th-ranked wrestler, Ben Honis. After a bitterly contested match, Honis walked away with a 7–6 victory.
Since then, said Brucki, he’d thought about the loss “every day.” His Drexel opponent, junior Stephen Loiseau, offered him a shot at redemption. Like Honis two weeks ago, Loiseau is currently ranked No. 14 in the 197-pound division. Like Honis, said Ayres, Loiseau is “dominant on top — that’s his position.”
But despite those similarities, Brucki mounted a strikingly different performance. He routed Loiseau, posting a dominant 13–6 victory.
“At Cornell, Brucki just didn’t wrestle the second period,” said Ayres. “Against Drexel, he did. And in the third, he broke the kid. I think the loss actually helped him.”
Ayres has said that last sentence before when — three weeks ago — Matthew Kolodzik fell 10–2 to Cornell’s Anthony Ashnault. In Ayres’ estimation, that loss served as a wake-up call. But it evidently was not shocking enough to make a permanent impression on Kolodzik.
In the 149-pound division, Drexel’s unranked Parker Kropman scored a late takedown to best Princeton’s star wrestler 3–1. Shock rippled through Drexel’s arena at the news. But no one on the Tigers’ side of operations doubts Kolodzik’s abilities.
“I’m not worried about Kolo at all,” said Brucki. “Last year around this time, he lost to an unranked nobody — and then won EIWAs. He comes through when he knows everything’s on the line. I think he’s going to have no problem showing up when he has to.”
Kolodzik’s loss marked the low point of an otherwise exciting day, one that showcased the remarkable potential of Princeton’s young team.
“Having such strong underclassmen is exciting for this year and for years to come,” said Stefanik. “We have so much room to get better. Looking ahead two years, we’re going to be unbeatable.”
The team’s confidence will be put to the test on March 8, when the Tigers head to Binghamton, New York for their conference tournament. Ayres cannot wait.
“I’m excited to see the end of this all,” he said. “This is the celebration of all the work the guys have put in. As cliché as it sounds, I just want to see them go out there and have fun in the postseason. Win or lose, if you put out the best you can do, good things will happen.”
As for how the team will ready themselves for EIWAs? Brucki had four words:
“Listen to Chris Ayres.”