Garrett Frey and Zach Bintliff walked into this same
practice room three years ago, then as wide-eyed freshmen just looking to make
their mark on a young, struggling program.
The workout equipment is in the same spot. The team photos still hang. There are motivational posters on the walls, and mats just waiting to train champions.
All of that is the same. But most everything else is
"It's night and day," said Bintliff, who joins Frey and
junior Dan Santoro as tri-captains for the Princeton wrestling team this
season. "Freshman year, we would come for an extra workout, and it would be me
and Garrett, or me and Luis [Ramos]. Now, anytime you come in, there are always
people down here. The want to win is so much more, I feel."
"The intensity has definitely picked up," Frey said. "I feel
like our coaches can do that now with this team. They can expect more from
guys. I feel like we're at the point where now we have tough guys. Nobody is
going to back down."
While the energy has changed for the better, there are other
quality additions heading into the season.
New assistant coach Job Dubuque brings his two NCAA
Championships to a program that has won just one (Bradley Glass, 1951) in its
history. He has already impacted the production in the room, and he joins a
coaching staff put together by Chris Ayres that has pushed this program to new
levels every year.
There is also a strong infusion of talent from the
eight-member Class of 2016. As many as five freshmen could ultimately start
this season, but Ayres is most pleased about the collective approach taken by
the group. They have already added toughness to a room that has worked hard on
developing that crucial trait.
There are a couple of subtractions that will certainly play
a factor this year. Graduation took away Daniel Kolodzik, who missed
All-America status by one match and became Princeton's first first-team All-Ivy
wrestler since 2003 last season.
Late-season injuries to EIWA placewinners Chris Perez and
Adam Krop leave both on the sideline for the season. Both withdrew from school
this year, meaning both will have at least two seasons of eligibility remaining
With so much youth this season, it's tough to predict the
overall team success, but Ayres believes there is a great opportunity for
individual success. And if there is enough individual success, team victories
Princeton will open the season Sunday at the Binghamton Open.
Freshman Max Rogers could be the first of five potential
freshman starters this season, and Ayres likes what he has seen so far from
this two-time placewinner in New Jersey. The seventh-year head coach has been
impressed with Rogers' skills as a hand fighter, and he sees a steady level of
improvement because of the freshman's consistent work ethic.
Rogers won 112 matches for the Delbarton School, one of the state's
top wrestling programs, and he was the 2011 New Jersey freestyle champion.
Pushing Rogers will be sophomore Ryan Cash, who picked up a
pair of Ivy League victories at 125 last season while replacing the injured
Frey. Cash showed the ability to compete with elite talent, but he needs to
develop a greater level of consistency to make a move towards that group.
Frey may be the most recognizable face within the Princeton
Wrestling program since Greg Parker '03, but he has made a move into foreign
territory. After three years at 125, Frey has moved up a weight, and he is
already feeling better about it.
"I feel faster, and in better shape," Frey said during the
final week of preseason. "I don't feel as drained. I feel much more comfortable
That comfort level could prove the early prognosticators
correct. Frey was picked first in the preseason EIWA poll, and he holds a
current ranking of 15 in the InterMat national rankings. Frey has
already made Princeton history; he is one of only seven wrestlers to qualify
for three NCAA Championships. No Tiger wrestler has ever made four.
Of course, Frey doesn't want to just make it.
"I have a number of different goals this year," he said.
"The main one is to win Nationals. I've wanted to do that since I was a kid. If
you just want to be an All-American, you're still setting a goal where you are
going to lose eventually. I want to be on the top of the podium. I want to win
A huge factor in that drive will be the presence of Dubuque,
who can push Frey like no training partner has in the last three years.
Senior Andrew Hirai has shown improvement over his three
seasons and will provide quality depth for Frey at the weight.
A pair of freshmen will likely battle for the spot early at
141, as both Kevin Moylan and Nick Maselli bring strong credentials into the
Moylan is the reigning Illinois state champion at 145, and
he placed third at the weight as a junior. He earned All-America honors at the
Junior Freestyle Duals, and he is a tough competitor with a big upside.
Like Rogers, Maselli is a former placewinner at the New
Jersey state championships, where he represented Bergen County Academies. A
2011 War at the Shore winner and 2012 regional champion, Maselli knows how to
win matches, as he showed 133 times in his high school career.
While those two may have an early edge, don't forget senior
Luis Ramos, who is dealing with an early-season injury, but should return to
the mat in time to make an impact on the Ivy League season. Ramos has won
double-digit matches in two of the last three seasons and brings significant
collegiate experience to the mat.
Bintliff has been a bit overshadowed by Frey throughout his
first three years, but he has consistently produced since his freshman season.
And if there is one wrestler primed to make the type of senior jump that Daniel
Kolodzik made last year, Bintliff seems like the prime candidate.
A two-time EIWA placewinner, Bintliff has won 41 matches at
Princeton and has represented the Tigers in each of the last three EIWA
Championships. Ayres has pointed to his added strength and confidence (based on
a late-season run, including a seventh-place finish at Easterns and a run of
seven wins in eight matches) as top reasons to believe that the best is yet to
come from Bintliff, who is ranked sixth in the EIWA preseason poll at 149.
Bintliff will also get pushed daily by junior Robert
Shepherd, a former Ohio state champion who earned eight wins last season. Ayres
has a lot of confidence in Shepherd, which could allow him to juggle his lineup
if there is an injury in a neighboring weight.
The wild card for Princeton this season could come at 157
pounds. Junior Brandon Rolnick brought as impressive a résumé as any recent
Princeton recruit. He won both the USA Cadet national freestyle wrestling
tournament and the FILA Cadet national freestyle championships, and he was once
ranked atop his weight class nationally.
Then the injury bug bit. And bit again. And again.
From his senior year at the Lawrenceville School to his
first two years at Princeton, Rolnick has seen only limited time on the mat. He
won nine matches as a freshman, and then missed almost all of last year. He
will undoubtedly have some early-season rust, but Ayres points to his passion
to improve as a reason to be excited about the future.
If Rolnick can stay healthy all season, he could be one of
the EIWA's most interesting competitors come February.
A trio of Stephen Leshinger, Kyle Roddy and Seth Hazleton
will add depth to the weight.
Freshman Abe Ayala started wrestling as a sophomore in high
school, so he may have the greatest level of upside in the room. Ayres has
already been impressed with both his technique and athleticism, and he looks
like the early favorite to start at the weight.
Ayala placed fifth at the 2012 NWCA Nationals at 149, and he
placed eighth at the 2011 National Prep Championships at 135 pounds while
wrestling for Blair Academy. Because of his inexperience, he could have some
tough matches early, but will likely look far different by the Ivy League
Sophomore Rich Eva earned the starting spot at 165 as a
freshman and held it through the EIWA Championships. He won eight matches, but
gained far more experience. A preseason injury has limited him at this point,
but expect him to challenge Ayala for the starting spot eventually.
Junior Ryan Callahan was Princeton's top-ranked recruit in
the Class of 2014, and he earned both the starting spot at this weight and a
winning record as a freshman. An injury thwarted his progress that season, and
he was beaten out for the spot by senior Andy Lowy last year.
The 2010 New Jersey state champion from Wallkill Valley has
looked terrific this preseason, and Ayres believes the best is still to come
from Callahan. A strong early start and added confidence would be a huge boost.
Santoro and freshman Scott Gibbons could be battling for the
spot at 184, though it is possible that one could be land here and the other
could move to 197. Santoro won 18 matches at the weight last year, including
one at the EIWA Championships, and his freshman season win over Brown helped
Princeton clinch its first Ivy League win of the 2010-11 season.
Santoro is a dedicated worker who has improved each year,
and his leadership is already having a positive impact on the youth in the
He'll probably have the biggest impact on Gibbons, who he'll
likely spend countless hours training with this season. The freshman is no
stranger to moving around weight classes; he won three Louisiana state
championships at three different weights (160, 171, 195). For his career, he
went 205-23 at Archbishop Rummel, and he was one of Princeton's top-ranked
recruits entering this season.
Whoever doesn't earn the spot at 184 will challenge senior
Charles Fox at 197. Fox dropped from 285 last season, when he represented
Princeton at the EIWA Championships. Fox also had a key win in the 2011 victory
over Brown, and he has starting experience in each of the last three seasons.
Freshman Cole Lampman is dealing with an early-season
injury, but he will be the favorite to win this spot when he returns. Lampman
placed third in the New York state championships last year, and that followed a
fourth-place finish the previous year. He won 114 matches while at
Shenendehowa, and Ayres is hopeful he can quickly transition to the collegiate
Senior Greg Field will also add depth to this weight class.