On the second day of the 2019 NCAA Championships, Princeton wrestling made history — but not as much as it had hoped.
The first two sessions secured three quarterfinalists for the Tigers: first-year Patrick Glory, sophomore Patrick Brucki, and junior Matthew Kolodzik.
Seventh-ranked Glory, who had so far outscored his opponents 26–0, kicked off the competition for the Tigers with a matchup against Oklahoma State’s No. 2 Nicholas Piccininni.
Seconds into the match, Piccininni handed Glory his first takedown of the tournament. From there, he dominated. He led 2–1 at the end of the first and 6–3 at the end of the second.
The third period saw some excitement. An escape from Glory brought him to within two points of tying it up, and a stalling call on Piccininni made the score 6–5. At this point, the crowd got to its feet.
But a late ankle takedown and riding time secured a 9–5 victory for the Cowboys. Piccininni’s record extended to 35–0; Glory dropped to the consolation bracket.
He faced off there against Old Dominion’s No. 12 Michael McGee. With two takedowns, two swipes, and an escape, Glory breezed past him 7–1. Although he would not achieve his ultimate goal of winning a title, Glory became Princeton’s second-ever first-year All-American.
He wrestled his third match of the day against Michigan State’s No. 9 RayVon Foley. In that bout, Glory seemed his usual aggressive self. In the first period alone, he worked his way to a 10–0 lead and 2:35 of riding time. The third frame saw some sloppiness from Glory — “Stop it now!” yelled assistant coach Joe Dubuque from the corner — but he still finished the eight minutes with a 13–5 major decision.
Glory was guaranteed a top-six place, the best ever finish for a Princeton first-year.
“I’m proud of him,” said head coach Christopher Ayres. “The quarterfinals were unfortunate, but I knew that after them, he had to win. The kid’s incredible. At the end of the day, he’s going to be in a position to win national titles down the line.”
Glory was wrestling alongside Princeton’s first-ever first-year All-American: No. 5 Kolodzik, who faced Missouri’s No. 4 Brock Mauller in the morning session. The lower-seeded athlete, Kolodzik opened the match with a takedown and didn’t look back. He displayed some of the dominance he’d been missing the day before; Mauller earned two escapes and a free stalling point, but never completed an offensive move against Princeton’s wrestler.
Kolodzik’s 5–3 decision cemented his status as Princeton’s first three-time All-American.
“It feels good,” he said. “Kind of hard to reflect at this point because I’m just focused on the job. Get back to me after the finals.”
But one obstacle stood in the way of Kolodzik and that post-finals interview: Rutgers’ No. 1 Anthony Ashnault.
The two wrestlers had met earlier this season in Piscataway; in response to Ayres’ claim that Ashnault could not score a point on his wrestler, the Scarlet Knight had bested Kolodzik 10–2 and held up a defiant ten fingers to Princeton’s bench. That defeat jumpstarted Kolodzik’s slide down the rankings. Here was his opportunity for redemption.
“I’m ready to go and prove that things have changed,” he said before the match.
They had not.
Ashnault earned an escape and a riding-time point to finish the match 2–0. Down the drain went Kolodzik’s dreams of a dramatic upset and an NCAA title. Like Glory, he fell into the consolation bracket.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” said the ever-stoic Kolodzik. “But I’m not the first to feel that way, and I definitely won’t be the last. I just need to fuel up and win this senior year.”
No. 4 Brucki, Princeton’s highest-seeded quarterfinalist, took the mat last. He squared up against California Polytechnic’s No. 21 Thomas Lane, who had beaten the No. 12 and No. 5 seeds en route to his match with Brucki.
Brucki would allow no such upset. He posted two takedowns, enough to outscore Lane’s reversal and riding-time point. The 4–3 decision sent him to the next round; he and Kolodzik became the first simultaneous semifinalists in school history.
In the semifinals, though, he faced a formidable opponent: Penn State’s No. 1 Bo Nickal. The undefeated Nickal is a three-time NCAA finalist and two-time champion. Still, Princeton’s coaches thought Brucki could pull off a win.
“Brucki’s had to fight some demons this tournament,” said assistant coach Nathan Jackson. “He’s been a little off. But now that he’s an All-American, I think his issues will go away. He’s in the hunt now.”
Ayres echoed Jackson. “Brucki will have to give 100 percent for this,” he said. “If he does, I’m confident in him. If he wrestles to his full potential, he’s unstoppable.”
An early takedown from Nickal, however, set the tone for the faceoff. Though Brucki managed two escapes, Nickal racked up takedown after takedown, point after point. Brucki trailed 6–2 with half the match to go.
And then, suddenly and surreally, it was over. This season, Brucki has won by fall five times and beaten his opponents by a stunning average of 8.4 points.
But a minute and 41 seconds into the second frame, Nickal pinned him.
“He wrestled his ass off,“ said Ayres. “But Bo Nickal is one of the greatest wrestlers this sport has seen. Sometimes, you give everything you got — and you still lose.”
At the end of the evening session, Princeton stood at 16th in the rankings. Though a far cry from Ayres’ goal of a top-ten finish, that was a full ten spots higher than the day before.
In one day, three athletes’ quests for titles had come to an end. Yet, they refused to let their losses color their attitudes or their ensuing performances.
“Roll with the punches,” said Kolodzik. “Keep going. Not worried. It’s just business as usual.”