On Saturday Nov. 30, 2018, in Lehigh University’s Leeman-Turner Arena, the unranked underdogs of Princeton wrestling took down a powerhouse: the No. 8 Mountain Hawks.
It was a victory notable at once for its drama and for its scale. First-year Patrick Glory, junior Matthew Kolodzik, and junior Kevin Parker logged stunning 17–2, 17—1, and 23–8 victories. Those bonus points edged Princeton to what head coach Christopher Ayres called the “biggest win in program history.” The Tigers’ first triumph over Lehigh since 1968, the 21–19 win electrified the wrestling world, earned Princeton some begrudging respect — “well, that just happened,” read one headline — and catapulted the team to a national ranking.
Since then, one question has plagued the Tigers, their fans, and their adversaries: could Princeton do it again?
On Saturday Nov. 23, 2019, in Jadwin Gymnasium, No. 14 Princeton wrestling faced No. 7 Lehigh once more. This time, methodically and meticulously, the Tigers took down an equal.
Missing was the frenzy of last November, its upsets and its routings. For this 18–14 victory, Princeton did not need to rely on the spectacular; slow, steady, grunt work proved enough. Save maybe for the parents of the wrestlers on the mats, the meet’s spectators left with their fingernails intact.
“Last year we were jumping around hugging each other,” said Ayres in one of his Coaches Corners. This year? “It’s business as usual.”
Heading into the meet’s ten matches, the Tigers’ game plan was clear.
No. 5 sophomore Patrick Glory would face Lehigh’s No. 12 Brandon Paetzell at 125 pounds; No. 12 senior captain Mike D’Angelo would face the unranked Jimmy Hoffman at 149; No. 2 junior captain Patrick Brucki would face No. 16 Jake Jakobsen at 197. Pigs would fly before Princeton lost those matches.
Unranked freshman Sean Pierson would make his 133-pound debut against Lehigh’s No. 19 Nick Farro; unranked senior Kevin Parker would make his 174-pound debut against Lehigh’s No. 2 Jordan Keller; unranked true freshman heavyweight Aidan Connor would meet No. 6 Jordan Wood. Damage control, more than winning, was the objective there.
Six matches — three for Princeton, three for Lehigh — were all but decided. The meat of the dual, then, came down to four bouts.
At 141 pounds, unranked sophomore Marshall Keller would face the unranked Lehigh fifth-year Ryan Pomrinca. At 157 pounds, No. 9 sophomore Quincy Monday would square up against No. 10 Josh Humphreys. 165 and 184 pounds would see two other unmatched face-offs, between sophomore Grant Cuomo and Lehigh’s Brian Meyer, and sophomore Travis Stefanik and Lehigh’s Chris Weiler.
As expected, Glory emerged — well — glorious with a 5–3 overtime victory over Paetzell. As expected, Pierson’s opponent got the better of him with an 11–5 win. One decision for Princeton; one for Lehigh. The score stood at 3–3.
Keller and Pomrinca took the mat. The first period passed without score or spectacle.
“We’re hungry!” yelled a fan from the sidelines.
An escape ten seconds into the second period sated the crowd’s appetite and put Keller up 1–0. With 1:30 left on the clock, Pomrinca matched him. As time wound down, Keller chased his opponent round and round the mat.
Pomrinca’s “very hard to score on,” said Ayres. “We needed a stall call.”
With 45 seconds to go, Princeton got it. A challenge from Lehigh’s corner proved futile; Keller claimed a 2–1 decision.
“He just did a phenomenal job,” said Ayres. “He’s my pick for MVP of the meet, for sure.”
6–3, Princeton. An unsurprising 6–5 win from D’Angelo bumped the Tigers up 9–3. And then, on a Saturday, it was time for Monday.
Lehigh’s Humphreys had bested Monday twice before — at last year’s dual, where he’d walked away with a 5–4 victory, and at last year’s EIWA Championships, where Humphreys earned gold to Monday’s bronze. Here was a shot at redemption.
For two periods, it seemed that Monday would waste it. Notorious for his talent on top, Humphreys spent much of the first five minutes riding Princeton’s wrestler. An early takedown put two Lehigh points on the scoreboard; a call for locked hands made it 2–1 for Monday; Humphreys jumped out again to start the final period with a 3–1 lead.
And then, suddenly, Monday hit a headlock. With back points, the tide turned in seconds — Princeton claimed an 8–6 win.
“He just found a way to win,” said Ayres. “The match played into right what Josh Humphries wanted, and then Quincy just did it — found a way to win. Incredible.”
12–3, Tigers. Cuomo’s match at 165 added another three points for the Orange and Black; a foreseen loss by Kevin Parker made the tally 15–7. Stuck in a third-period scramble, Stefanik dropped his match 11–4.
“He’s one of the best wrestlers in the country,” said Ayres. “He just got caught.”
Lehigh trailed 15–10. Out strolled Brucki.
“Boy do I feel good when I see him rolling out from behind the curtain,” said Ayres. “He’s a professional.”
He acted like one, securing a 7–4 decision to make the score 18–10 for Princeton. Even in the face of Conners’ anticipated loss by major decision, team victory was secured; Daft Punk’s “One More Time” blasted over the speakers.
Ayres, ever-concise: “This feels excellent.“
In two weeks, wrestling will face the nation’s other seventh-ranked team: Oklahoma State. Two days later, at home, the team will take on no. 2 Iowa. A week of Thanksgiving break stands between the Tigers and their preparatory practices. How does Ayres hope they’ll spend it?
“They should rest,“ he said. “They should train, and they should rest, and they should eat — but not too much.”