It was only last year that Chris Ayres’ wrestlers lost three of their four February matches in Dillon Gym on the way to a two-win season. But the Tigers (8-2) atoned for all of those losses this weekend as they took down Harvard, Boston University and Brown during the team’s road trip to New England. The three-win weekend provided some of the highest drama that the Tigers have had all season and makes them winners of five of their last six matches.
The wrestlers began their weekend up in Cambridge on Saturday afternoon with a showdown against Harvard (3-5). The Tigers and Crimson traded victories through the first four individual matches, as junior Ryan Cash recorded a decision at 125 pounds and junior Adam Krop picked up a technical fall at 149 pounds.
The Tigers found themselves deadlocked at eight points apiece with Harvard after Krop’s win, but proceeded to go on a tear that put the match out of the Crimson’s reach. Consecutive five-point wins by sophomore Kevin Moylan, sophomore Judd Ziegler and senior Ryan Callahan put the Tigers up 17-9 going into the 184-pound bout. A crucial victory by freshman Brett Harner over Harvard’s Cameron Croy set the Tigers up for the win, so long as Harvard did not pin during the last two matches. Facing Harvard’s James Fox at 197 pounds, sophomore Abe Ayala fell to the two-time NCAA qualifier in a close 16-13 decision. But the three-point loss only gave Harvard three team points, which would not be enough to overcome as Princeton went on to win the match 19-17.
But the day held even greater drama for the Tigers. Their win on Saturday evening at Boston University stands as the most dramatic match of the season to date, and arguably the greatest comeback in program history.
The Terriers (3-8) came out firing in the lower-weight battles, taking five of the first six individual matches over the Tigers. With only Krop’s winning at 149 pounds, the Tigers were down by a score of 20-3 after the 165-pound bout. But Callahan’s major decision over BU’s Colin Saunders began a four-bout comeback that stunned the crowd at Case Gym. A major decision by freshman Troy Murtha, followed by third-period pins from Harner and Ayala, gave the Tigers 20 points over the last four bouts of the match to seal the win by a score of 23-20.
“Against BU we started out a little slow, but we knew they were tough down low,” Harner said. “Coach Ayres told me during the 157-pound match that Murtha was going 184, I was moving up to 197, and Abe was going heavyweight. I knew that I needed to get the fall for us to be in contention, and I was able to get it late in the third period. Abe getting the stick at heavyweight sealed up what might be one of the craziest matches I’ve ever been a part of.”
Princeton kept up the momentum on Sunday afternoon, as the Tigers squared off against Brown (3-7) in Providence. Both teams picked up six points in the match’s first two bouts, but freshman Jordan Laster kicked off a huge momentum swing for the Tigers, as his 10-4 decision over Jack Twomey-Kozak was the first of four consecutive wins for the Tigers. Krop, Moylan and Ziegler each picked up decisions that put the Tigers ahead 18-6. But consecutive wins from Brown put them right back in the match, as the Tigers led by five points going into the 197-pound bout. For the second straight day, Ayala sealed the victory for the Tigers, as his 8-3 decision over Augustus Marker solidified the Tigers’ perfect weekend.
“Overall, it was a great weekend, and definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had with my team,” Harner said. “We’re looking forward to getting back to work and finishing out the dual season on a high note.”