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stefanik

Sophomore 184-pound Travis Stefanik will be crucial in the Tigers’ effort to defeat Columbia and Cornell.

Photo credit: Beverly Schaefer, GoPrincetonTigers


Cornell wrestling has a dynasty. Princeton wrestling has a dream. On Sunday in Jadwin Gymnasium, one will fall — or fall short. 

No. 20 Big Red wrestling boasts 88 straight Ivy League wins. Its 17 consecutive Ivy League titles add up to the longest streak in any sport by any school in the Ivy League. Only Penn State and Oklahoma State have produced more all-time NCAA Champions. 

“Since the second I took over this program,” said Princeton head coach Chris Ayres in an interview last year, “I have been thinking about beating Cornell.” 

This year, though, when that quote was played back to him:

“Listen. It’s not just about beating one team — it’s about what we can achieve. It’s about the Princeton wrestling program. We deserve this. Our alumni deserve something like this.” 

And a crucial reminder:

“But first things first, we have to take care of Columbia.”

No. 9 Princeton wrestling will continue its Ivy League season with home matches against Columbia University on Saturday and Cornell on Sunday. Ranked atop the league, the Tigers boast a 2–0 Ivy record. Unless this weekend sees a colossal upset — Columbia’s squad is unranked, Cornell’s squad 11 spots below Princeton’s — that undefeated streak will continue. But Ayres is still nervous.

His anxiety has precedent. Last year, a Princeton team with three top-10 wrestlers walked away from an unranked Columbia team with a meager 20–16 victory. Ayres is eager to avoid that kind of embarrassment again. 

“A team like Columbia has tremendous talent,” he said. “Any one of their guys could pop through, make a jump, at any time. We can’t let them. We have to do our job. Our goal is to be exciting.”

Any Friday excitement, though, will likely pale in comparison to Saturday’s. Ayres may be playing down his fervor of last year, but he’ll admit this much: 

“To act like this is just another dual? That’s just not realistic.”

For the first time in decades, Princeton sits above Cornell in the national rankings. Last year, Princeton’s wrestlers cited “instinct” and “gut feeling” in their assertions that the Tigers could take down the Big Red. This year, they have numbers on their side. 

Princeton’s trio of superstars all enjoy top-five rankings: no. 3, 125-pound sophomore Patrick Glory; no. 4, 157-pound sophomore Quincy Monday; and no. 3 197-pound junior Patrick Brucki. And wrestlers at 165, 174, and 184 have dipped in and out of the national leaderboards for the entirety of the season; here is a chance for no. 23 sophomore Grant Cuomo, sophomore Travis Stefanik, and senior Kevin Parker to prove themselves. The Tigers have a secret weapon, too: the surprise return of 149-pound junior Matthew Kolodzik, back from an abridged year off. 

Cornell has just two responses to that roster: no. 5 133-pound Chas Tucker, and no. 4 197-pound Ben Darmstadt. 

Still, it won’t be an easy fight. Both teams are known for distinctive — and similar — styles of wrestling: aggressive, gritty, dramatic.  

“If our 10 guys go out there and do what they can do,” Ayres said, “we’re going to come through. This could be our time. And no matter what happens? You’re going to get an entertaining dual.”

How do the Tigers want to approach this weekend, its drama, its potential to make history? Take it from Glory:

“We want to go in with high intensity. We want to go in there with a little bit of swagger. We want to go out there, big guns swinging. What’s the best way to say it?” 

A pause.

“Guns loaded.”

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