A 3-0 start to the wrestling team’s dual schedule this season bodes well for a team that only won two matches last year. But the Tigers will face their toughest test to date on Saturday evening, when they host in-state rival Rutgers University. Saturday’s meeting is shaping up to be the most important home match that Princeton has this season for many reasons.
The battle for the best collegiate wrestling program in New Jersey marks the obvious significance of the Princeton-Rutgers clash. The last two decades, though, have witnessed the obsolescence of rivalry, as the Tigers have not beaten the Scarlet Knights since the 1989-90 season. However, the current strength of Princeton’s lineup, along with its hot start this season, has the Tigers pumped to turn a new leaf in the books.
“Facing Rutgers is really important because we haven’t beaten them in over 20 years,” sophomore Scott Gibbons said. “We walked into the locker room on Wednesday, and Coach Ayres showed us an old plaque that used to track our team’s performance against Rutgers in dual matches. We stopped keeping track against them back in 2002 after they continued to beat us every year. But Ayres had put pieces of tape on the plaque, which tracked all of the losses we’ve suffered against them over the last ten years as well. That’s really fired up the team to turn things around on Saturday.”
“We’re looking at every match as a big opportunity to improve the program, but there’s a lot more excitement going into this match,” sophomore Judd Ziegler said. “We have a good chance to beat a team we’ve never beaten before, and the match is magnified because they’re another New Jersey school.”
Not only does the Garden State rivalry heighten the importance of the match, but also the venue: This will be the first time that the Tigers have competed in Jadwin Gymnasium since they hosted the 2012 EIWA Championships. Normally, the Tigers compete in Dillon Gymnasium, but the anticipated crowd for Saturday has made it necessary to use Jadwin. Jadwin runs deep in the marrow of New Jersey wrestling, as it once hosted the high school state championships before the venue changed in 1991 to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. As of now, 35 past state champions, some who were crowned within Jadwin’s walls, will be in attendance on Saturday in honor of Celebration of New Jersey Wrestling Day. All past New Jersey high school state champions will be honored at the midpoint of the match.
The intensity of Saturday’s atmosphere will require greater intensity from the Tiger grapplers, but it is a challenge that they seem ready to meet.
“This is the most focused the group has ever been,” Gibbons said. “Normally we have a lot more live wrestling in practice, but this week we’ve been tapering to get ready for Saturday. The whole rivalry we have with Rutgers and how close it is to Princeton would make this a hard match to lose.”
Rutgers comes to Jadwin with a 5-2 record for the season, with three of their victories having been decided by two or fewer points. Redshirt sophomore Billy Smith and redshirt senior Vincent Dellefave lead Rutgers, considered some of the best wrestlers in the nation. With the highly anticipated home return of junior Adam Krop and senior Garrett Frey, the Tigers are ready for a close match on Saturday night.
“We think we’re supposed to beat them, we’re strong all through our lineup,” Gibbons said. “We’re riding pretty high off our 3-0 start, which marks more dual wins than we had all last year. Everyone wants to beat Rutgers, nobody’s even thinking about Christmas yet. Just beat Rutgers.”
“As long as we show up, I think we should come out on top,” Ziegler said.
The match kicks off at 5 p.m. Saturday evening in Jadwin Gymnasium.