The Princeton University wrestling team checked a lot of boxes this season.
The Tigers won the Ivy League for the first time since 1986 and ended Cornell’s 18-year, 92-match winning streak in the league. They defeated New Jersey rival Rutgers for the first time in 30 years.
The last box Princeton was hoping to check was a top-four finish at the NCAA Wrestling Championships, which would have earned it one of the placement trophies. At the very least, the Tigers seemed likely to end up with a Top-10 finish after placing 15th last year in Pittsburgh.
Those hopes ended a week before the tournament was set to take place at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis – in a football stadium for the first time – as the NCAA canceled the tournament due to coronavirus concerns.
“The placement points had us eighth, but we could have done better, we may never know,” said Princeton coach Chris Ayres. “The program’s been through a lot of adversity over the years. This was definitely a bummer. I honestly don’t feel bad for me, but I feel torn apart for all of them.”
The Tigers had six wrestlers going to the tournament, including four that figured to compete for All-American honors and the national title. Sophomore 125-pounder Pat Glory was seeded second. Senior 149-pounder Matt Kolodzik – who came out late as he planned to take an Olympic redshirt – was seeded sixth but entered the tournament undefeated as a three-time All-American.
Sophomore Quincy Monday was seeded fifth at 157 and junior Patrick Brucki eighth at 197 – though he was fourth a year ago. Travis Stefanik and Grant Cuomo had chances to win a couple matches at least and add to the point total.
Last year, Princeton finished 15th with just its three All-Americans scoring – Brucki, Kolodzik (5th) and Glory (6th).
“Coach was saying five All-Americans guarantees you top four,” said Glory. “It was a possibility. We were more of an NCAA Tournament team than anything else.”
The Tigers didn’t get the chance to bring home a trophy in March, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a special season – one that ended with a 9-4 record and a second year of maintaining a hold in the national rankings.
Princeton will continue to be a national player. It is scheduled to bring back eight of 10 starters – it is also hoping for some eligibility relief for Kolodzik – though Ayres said it’s possible wrestlers could grey-shirt.
Lenny Merkin is expected to return from Olympic redshirt and a group of recruits – headed by three-time state champion Anthony Clark of Delbarton – will push to make their mark.
Without a chance to compete at NCAAs, the wins over Cornell and Rutgers – which the Tigers both got to celebrate in front of their fans in Jadwin Gym for two of the biggest in the program’s history – will be the highlights of 2019-2020. And they were pretty memorable.
“That’s special,” said Kolodzik. “Those are memories that you’re never going to forget, that anybody that was there wouldn’t forget. The pictures from the Cornell dual will become iconic. They’ll hang up on posters and the walls of Jadwin forever.”