Embracing Opportunity Is Focus For 10-11 Wrestling Season (Story & Video)
The dreary conditions didn’t impact the Princeton wrestling team. The Tigers were on a bus up north, winning one match, then another, and then two more after that. A program whose struggles once measured in feet, not inches, was finally standing in the sunshine and had no desire to move anywhere else.
The season ended with both a little more sun and a little more snow. Freshman Garrett Frey reached the EIWA finals and the NCAA Championships, and the Tigers knocked off Columbia to clinch third place in the Ivy League. On the flip side, Princeton dropped its final two Ivy League matches and didn’t have nearly the team success at the EIWA championships that head coach Chris Ayres had hoped.
Princeton lost two seniors from that squad, including All-Ivy honoree Danny Scotton, but it brought in a highly touted Class of 2014 that was getting placed amongst the Top 20 in some national rankings. That group joins a roster that faces a major challenge this season; the sunshine is still there, warm and waiting, but it is a path not far from the snowstorms of the past.
There is a poster in the wrestling room with the motto “Embrace Opportunity.” That has been the slogan for a season that is all about opportunity; Princeton could continue taking steps forward into the Ivy League and EIWA elite, but it will take more than just a couple of successful individual seasons. Success in all 10 weight classes, beginning this weekend at the Binghamton Open, is crucial in the forward progress of a program that has no plans on going back to the cold.
Here is a weight-by-weight preview for the 2010-11 Princeton Tigers:
125 • Frey is now a sophomore and was listed second at the weight in the EIWA preseason rankings. He won 27 matches as a freshman, a Princeton best in more than a decade, and upset the No. 2 and 3 seeds to reach the EIWA final, where he lost to former NCAA champion Troy Nickerson of Cornell. He won a match at NCAAs and, despite his underclassman status, is one of the unquestioned leaders in the locker room this season.
Frey was ranked 19th in the first Intermat preseason rankings and believes he is far more ready to handle the college wrestling season than he did heading into his freshman year. He earned bonus points in more than half of his victories last year, and Ayres will be counting on him to be the foundation for team success this year.
133 • Junior Tony Comunale and freshman Adam Krop will compete for the starting position at 133. Comunale was once where Frey was, a freshman on the verge of qualifying for the NCAA Championships. He led in his final EIWA match, but suffered an injury and ultimately missed the entire 2008-09 season. He saw limited action last season, but is fully healthy and ready to compete for a position in the starting lineup.
Krop has been one of the most pleasant surprises for Ayres this preseason. A three-time Maryland state champion and high school All-America honoree, Krop won 148 of 154 matches at Urbana. He won the Dave Schultz Award in Maryland and was a two-time first-team selection on the Washington Post All-Met first team. If he quickly adjusts to the collegiate level, he could provide the kind of freshman spark that Frey gave last season in the lower weights.
141 • When Ayres started at Princeton, one of his biggest issues was depth. At many weight classes, there was only one competitor; not only would that cost the team six points per match if he got injured, but it severely hampered the competitive progress that could be made at practice.
While there are still depth issues for the Tigers, this weight is an example of what Ayres wants for his program moving forward. Princeton has three potential starters, including two sophomores who represented the Orange and Black at the 2010 EIWA Championships.
Those sophomores are Zach Bintliff and Luis Ramos, who wrestled at 133 and 141, respectively. Bintliff dealt with early-season injury issues, but he came back and recorded an important pin in Princeton’s 28-13 win over Columbia. A former Missouri state champion, Bintliff could more than double his eight wins last season if he can stay healthy.
Ramos was the surprise of last season, winning 14 matches and earning a winning Ivy League record despite getting into the sport fairly late. He won 253 career high school matches, so he clearly knows how to get the job done on the mat. He and Bintliff will challenge for this spot throughout the season and likely for the next three years.
Freshman Robert Shepherd brings state championship experience to the weight class. He won the Ohio state title as a junior and ended his career with a 42-1 senior season. He brings a 145-13 high school record to Princeton and can’t be discounted in this weight class, especially as he adjusts to the collegiate level.
149 • Freshman Brandon Rolnick was once one of the top recruits in the country at his weight, but an injury cost him the majority of his senior season. He is a former champion of both the USA Cadet national freestyle wrestling tournament and the FILA Cadet national freestyle wrestling tournament, and he has placed both second and third at Prep nationals and finished third at the USA Junior national wrestling Ironman Tournament championships.
Rolnick has one of the tougher adjustments in the Class of 2014, because he needs to shake off competitive rust as he adjusts to the college sport, but he should still make an immediate impact at this weight within both the Ivy League and the EIWA. However, Rolnick could be one of those freshmen that makes a huge jump between now and February, when the stakes are the highest.
157 • Junior Daniel Kolodzik was Ayres’ first major recruit, and he showed signs of his talent with victories over nationally ranked opponents from both Rutgers and Rider. He was a second-team All-Ivy selection at 149 pounds last season and won six of his last seven matches prior to the EIWA Championships.
Looking back, Ayres thinks he might have been an even better fit at 157 last year, and he thinks this is the perfect weight class for Kolodzik this season. He has been one of Princeton’s best competitors in the preseason and could be on the verge of a breakout year if he can maintain consistency.
165 • Junior Andy Lowy won 15 matches at this weight class last season, and without much depth in his middleweights, Ayres is dependant on Lowy to perform well again this season. He has 25 victories in his career, including an impressive 10-3 win in the Rutgers dual match last season. Like Krop, he is a three-time Maryland state champion, so he knows how to take care of business when it matters most.
174 • Ayres will watch youth take on experience in one of his deeper weights. Senior captain Travis Erdman was Ayres’ first All-Ivy honoree, and he won 17 matches at this weight last season. He won 10 of 15 after January began and placed at the EIWA Championships after two close victories in the consolation draw. He had key wins in three Ivy League team victories, and he will be called upon to provide leadership both on and off the mat for Princeton.
The Tigers’ highest-ranked recruit by the end of last year was New Jersey state champion Ryan Callahan, who went undefeated as a senior in one of the toughest wrestling states in the nation. Ayres has been impressed with his immediate adjustment to the college level and thinks he could provide a Frey-like impact on the EIWA in his first season.
184 • Whoever misses out on the 174-pound starting spot will likely compete with freshman Dan Santoro for the 184 starting position. Santoro was an all-state wrestler in Illinois who went 45-7 and placed fourth at the state championships. A two-time All-America honoree, Santoro placed sixth at the USA Cadet national championships. Like Ramos, he got into the sport later than most, so he could see a rapid rate of improvement with hard work this season.
197 • Sophomore Charles Fox earned this spot as a freshman and won nine matches, including a victory in the team win over Harvard. He competed at the EIWA Championships and should be improved after a full year of starting experience. He won more than 100 matches in high school, and Ayres is hoping he can bolster the upperweights this season.
HWT • Junior Stephen Turner and sophomore Bobby Grogan have both been starters for Princeton, and each will compete for the starting spot this season Grogan was Princeton’s starter last season and earned his best win of the year with a 5-3 victory over Penn in the season finale. The Tigers have struggled at heavyweight recently, and Ayres is hopeful that one of the two will excel in his second year as a starter.