Neither the snowstorm nor the onset of winter break prevented a large crowd from trekking to Jadwin Gymnasium Saturday night to see the Princeton wrestling team host Rutgers in what was billed as “a celebration of New Jersey wrestling.” The Tigers fell to the Scarlet Knights, but there were still signs throughout the night that head coach Chris Ayers has his team – which, at 3-1, already has more wins than it did last season – on the right track.
After a slow start for the Tigers in which Jordan Laster ’17 lost despite escaping a number of tight situations, Adam Krop ’15 brought the crowd to its feet, pinning his opponent in an overpowering display at 141 lbs. and tying the team score. Ayers praised Krop for getting the win after the Tigers lost the match before his at 133 lbs.
“We really thought we were gonna take 133. I think Krop thought that too,” Ayers said. “So for him to come out and ignite things a little bit was what we needed at the time. So he really did his job.”
Krop’s win was especially heartening to Tiger fans given that he had been absent from the mat until quite recently. The knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2012-13 season was just one of several medical issues which have plagued Princeton in the last few years.
In the wake of those injuries, inexperienced wrestlers have been shouldering much of the burden. One example, Abe Ayala ’16, has been proving himself capable all season and did so again Saturday. Wrestling at 165 lbs., Ayala kept his match close with two well-executed escapes and took down his man in the third period to earn a 6-4 win. Though it was too little, too late for Princeton, it gave the crowd much to cheer about.
“Abe’s wrestling well. He’s focused on wrestling and nothing else,” Ayers said. “You can see him out there – he’s made a jump to where he’s not concerned about other things, he’s just trying to score points. That’s it. He’s not thinking about his shape, he’s not thinking that he’s tired, he just keeps wrestling.”
Clearly disappointed after the match, Ayers said that his team’s youth was both a blessing and a curse.
“We have to lean on that youth,” he said. “Part of the issue is the coaches don’t know the kids that well. I mean, we have freshmen here who’ve been here for what now, four months?”
The match was held in Jadwin Gymnasium, former home of the state high-school wrestling championships, and a ceremony during an intermission honored New Jersey state wrestling champions from years past. The list included current Princeton assistant coach Joe Dubuque, state champion in 2000 and 2001, and Mark Manchio, who won 1999, 2000, and 2001 state championships, each time at a different weight class. The crowd got on its feet to recognize Lawrence Mackey, the oldest returning champion, who won his title in 1941.
Men’s basketball defied the odds to pull off its first win over a Big Ten team since 1985 Saturday night at Penn State. The Nittany Lions looked to have the Tigers beaten, up 18 with a little over six minutes to go, but Princeton battled back. Thanks largely to T.J. Bray ’14, who set a program record for assists per turnover (13/2), and Will Barrett ’14, who tied a career high with 24 points, the Tigers sent the game to overtime. In the extra period, a Barrett three-pointer gave Princeton a five-point lead, and though Penn State would narrow the deficit, it could not recover. At 8-1, Princeton is off to its best start since the 1997-98 season.
Women’s basketball notched a marquee win of its own Sunday afternoon, defeating Delaware for the first time since 2010.The matchup was dead even throughout, as Princeton led by two at the half but the teams were tied at the end of regulation. Guard Blake Dietrick ’15 hit a three-pointer with 53 seconds left in overtime to put the Tigers ahead for good; they won by a final score of 84-80. Princeton has won its last three games to improve to 6-4.
Editor’s note: This is the final Monday sports column of 2013. The weekly schedule will resume at the beginning of the spring semester.