Head wrestling coach Chris Ayres can breathe again.
After last Sunday’s grueling, gritty victory over powerhouse No. 18 Cornell, No. 5 Princeton wrestling was promised a share of this year’s Ivy League Championship — the team’s first since 1986. But one barrier to full ownership of the trophy remained: the University of Pennsylvania.
The Tigers walked away from a Saturday Dillon Gymnasium doubleheader against Penn and Drexel — Pennsylvania’s top two Division I programs — with back-to-back victories. The 33–6 and 22–16 wins cemented Princeton as the sole Ivy League champion and earned the team its first undefeated Ivy League season since 1986.
Ayres had a straightforward goal heading into the Penn match.
“We’ve climbed our way out of the basement of the Ivy League one team at a time,” he said. “We wanted to send messages. We wanted to make sure that we were expressing our dominance.”
His team did exactly that; senior captain No. 4 Matthew Kolodzik set Princeton’s pace with a stunning 17–3 major decision over Penn’s 149-pounder. It was smooth sailing from there for Princeton’s squad. Wrestling in place of No. 5 Quincy Monday in the 157, unranked sophomore Jake Marsh logged an 11–6 decision; No. 23 Grant Cuomo followed up with a 5–2 win in the 165.
Chasing a national ranking, senior 174-pound Kevin Parker put five points on the board for Princeton with a 16–1 technical fall over Penn’s wrestler. No. 25 Travis Stefanik followed up on last week’s electric performance with a 12–4 major. No. 4 junior captain Pat Brucki avenged his one-spot slip in the national rankings by posting a 20–3 technical fall. First-year Jack DelGarbino nabbed an overtime 5–3 win.
But then came the meat of Penn’s lineup. The Quakers boast just two ranked wrestlers: No. 14 Michael Colaiocco at 125 and No. 16 Doug Zapf at 141. Usually occupied by No. 3 sophomore Pat Glory, Princeton’s 125-pound slot was filled this weekend by unranked first-year Sean Pierson. Pierson fell — as expected — but held his opponent to a meager 2–0 decision. And at 141, Zapf took down sophomore Marshall Keller for his third straight defeat.
“The Keller and Pierson losses hurt,” said Ayres. “But those guys went hard. We always tell our guys not to worry about winning or losing — just to perform. And that’s what they did.”
The Tigers closed out the meet with a 27-point margin of victory, their highest this season. They’d proved themselves as the Ivy League’s dominant wrestling team.
“I’d been nervous,” said Ayres. “I’d held off on tweeting anything about winning the trophy this week, because I wanted to do it right. Now I can tweet; I’ll do that tomorrow morning, maybe.”
But the Tigers couldn’t rest on their laurels; two hours after the start of their Penn meet came the start of their Drexel one. The Dragons’ top wrestler — No. 20 Ebed Jarrell at 165 — got the ball rolling with a 6–1 victory over Cuomo. And the unranked Drexel 174-pounder kept his team’s momentum going, pinning Princeton’s Parker just 1:21 into the match.
But Stefanik turned the tide, proving his newfound consistency with a 13–4 major at 184; Brucki recorded his second technical fall of the day with a 20–5 victory. After a hiccup at heavyweight — DelGarbino fell, 11–0 — the Tigers logged four consecutive victories. Pierson at 125, junior Ty Agaisse at 133, Keller at 141, and Kolodzik at 149 combined for 13 team points for Princeton. A Drexel victory at 157 brought the final score to 22–16. It wasn’t domination, but it was a win.
“I would have liked to score a little more,” said Ayres. “Honestly I was happy with the win, but we were a little flat that match. It was just an okay performance.”
For Ayres and his team, though, there’s little time to reflect on the weekend. Coming up this Sunday in Jadwin Gym is one of the season’s most anticipated matches: a dual against Rutgers University. Last year, the Tigers fell by just one point in an early-season heartbreaker.
“It’s a great rivalry,“ said Ayres. “We’re the team in New Jersey right now, and we have to go out and prove it.”