Coming off a home split against Franklin & Marshall and Cornell last weekend, the wrestling team will return to action this weekend as it descends into the heart of its conference schedule. The Tigers (5-2) will be making a road trip to New England for the weekend: The first stop will be Boston for matches against Harvard and Boston University on Saturday, and then the team will make a stop on the way home in Providence, R.I. for a Sunday matchup against Brown.
Saturday will give the Tigers an immediate chance to exact revenge on a Harvard lineup (3-4) that defeated the Tigers 27-6 last February at Dillon Gymnasium. But the graduation of All-Americans Walter Peppelman and Steven Keith, in addition to injuries to the Crimson lineup, has put new faces into a number of starting roles for the Crimson. With a starting squad primarily comprised of underclassmen that has suffered its share of medical setbacks this season, the Tigers see themselves on equal footing with Harvard as they ship up to Boston this weekend.
“Over intersession and winter break, we had really good training days, way better than previous years” sophomore 165-pounder Judd Ziegler said. “We’ve been working really hard these last two weeks, and we wrestled pretty well last weekend. Normally, we head out of finals and into Bicker and we don’t wrestle as well. But now we’re ready and feel prepared to peak at the EIWA’s and think we’re on a steady incline. We expect to go 3-0 this weekend.”
After taking on Harvard at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the Tigers will square off against Boston University at 6 p.m. It was in April of last year that BU athletic director Mike Lynch shocked the college wrestling community by announcing that the school will be ending its wrestling program, effective in the spring of 2014. The drama and setback surrounding the school’s decision may be affecting the Terriers performance this season as the team’s 3-8 record thus far is far weaker than its 9-9 record last year. Despite the apparent weaknesses in the Terriers’ lineup, the Tigers remember the 20-19 loss they suffered at the hands of BU last year in front of one of the largest crowds Dillon Gym has witnessed in recent years. The focus is on righting that wrong, and working to extend the team’s winning record.
“We are focused on these next few duals as opportunities to establish our team as a power in the Ivy League and the conference, as well as chances to have individuals punch their tickets to the NCAA tournament in March,” sophomore 197-pounder Abe Ayala said. “We’ve adopted the mantra ‘blinders on’ to remind us to stay disciplined and focused in this critical segment of the season.”
Princeton will stop at Brown on its return trip home Sunday afternoon in an attempt to avenge a third home loss from last season. Similar to Boston University, Brown is experiencing a downward trajectory in comparison to last season. The Bears (1-6) just won their first match of the year on Jan. 26 against Sacred Heart after winning eight dual matches last winter. But three of Brown’s losses have been by margins of less than 10 points, and Princeton’s grapplers know that they will need to be ready for a strong effort from a Brown lineup wrestling in front of a large crowd on its Alumni Weekend.
At this moment last year, the Tigers were sitting near the bottom of the EIWA with a 2-8 record. But the team’s winning record, combined with sole losses to Rutgers and national powerhouse Cornell, has put the Tigers in a different frame of mind as it heads into what could be the most grueling weekend of the regular season.
“Our coaches are trying to get it into our minds that we train harder than these other teams,” Ziegler said. “We go at it in practice and do the hardest stuff, with live goes that last from forty minutes up to an hour. We’re battle-tested and ready, we’ve come out of finals and we’re still fresh and ready to go. Basically, they’ve been telling us to expect to do great things based on our hard training.”
“Our biggest challenge this weekend will be getting everyone to the mat in one piece,” Ayala said. “It’s a grind of a season, and five months of competition against the toughest guys in the country is hard on one’s body. We’re a bit banged up, but I have confidence in my teammates, our coaches, and the training staff to do the right things over the next few days so we can be at our best this weekend.”