With five freshmen in his starting lineup, and the knowledge that three wrestlers who either placed at EIWAs or qualified for NCAAs were missing the year, Princeton head coach Chris Ayres knew that the team season would be brutally challenging.
That didn’t even account for the schedule itself, which was loaded with ranked opponents, including Top 10 teams in Illinois and Cornell, and several programs in or on the fringe of the Top 25.
Princeton took its lumps during the regular season, and Ayres is confident that those will pay dividends eventually when this rosters is infused with both a highly touted incoming class and the trio of decorated returners. But eventually can wait for another week. Or three.
Ayres would obviously prefer three.
Princeton will head to Rutgers University this weekend for the 2013 EIWA Championships, held March 8-9. The event will be held inside the RAC, and it will begin at 11 am Friday with Session 1. All place finals will take place during the final session, which is scheduled to begin Saturday at 3 pm.
His wrestlers will be competing for some of the 45 tickets to the NCAA Wrestling Championships, held March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa. Of the 10 weight classes, eight will give either four or five automatic bids, so the opportunity is there for several Tigers to extend their seasons (see bottom of story for all allocations).
"I'm really excited for the weekend because I think we're peaking at the right time," said Ayres, who will be featured in Thursday's TigerCast. "The attitude in our room has stayed positive all season, and the guys have worked hard and improved. It's going to be tough, but we're in a good position. We have to go in and steal other people's spots, and that's an exciting position to be in."
For the likes of Zach Bintliff (149) and Andrew Hirai (133), it will be about extending their careers. Bintliff is a two-time EIWA placewinner, and he set a career mark with his 20th win of the season in the home finale against Boston University. He’ll need another career best at EIWAs, as a top-four finish would send him to his first NCAA Championships.
Hirai will have a more daunting challenge, as only two wrestlers from 133 will make NCAAs. Junior Ryan Callahan ended his season with wins in seven of his final 10 matches at 174, and he will compete for one of four spots. While he will need to pull off an upset or two along the way, he can gain confidence from a late-season 7-3 decision over Harvard’s Cameron Croy, who was sixth in the final EIWA rankings.
Junior Dan Santoro, who has experience in two EIWA Championships, will compete at 197, while sophomore Brandon Rolnick, who has dealt with one injury after another throughout his career, will compete at 157.
And then there are those five freshmen, who would love nothing more than to gain the experience of their first NCAA Championships to complete their rookie seasons.
Scott Gibbons ended the season with a team-best 21 victories, including wins in his final three, and he will go after one of five automatic bids at 184. It’s a top-heavy weight class, with three of the nation’s Top 10 wrestlers, but Gibbons went 2-1 on the season against Brown’s Ophir Bernstein, who is ranked sixth.
Kevin Moylan has 13 wins at 141, which is a loaded weight class in the EIWA. While that may fill the season with one challenge after another, its benefit comes now when there are a weekend-high seven bids available to the NCAA Championships. Moylan already has one impressive win this season, a 7-5 victory over Rutgers’ Trevor Melde, currently ranked fourth in the EIWA.
Max Rogers is another competitor who has seen one nationally ranked foe after another. He closed his season with a win over Boston University during the regular season finale, and will hope to carry that momentum into Easterns.
Judson Ziegler will compete at 165, where there are five spots available. He has a chance to make national headlines if he could win the bracket, as three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake will head the field, but Ziegler would happily settle for a fifth-place finish.
At 285, Cole Lampman has made a nice progression late in the season after injury cost him most of the preseason. He had a nice late-season dual victory at Columbia, and he could be a bit of a dark horse in the weight class.
Tickets are on sale for $22 per session ($25 for the finals) or $70 for the tournament. Orders can be made by clicking on the link above or by calling the Rutgers ticket office at 1-866-445-GORU (4678).
Friday, March 8
Session 1 – 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Session 2 – 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. (Semifinals and wrestle-backs)
Saturday, March 9
Session 3 – 10 a.m.-Noon (Wrestle-back semifinals and seventh place final)
EIWA Hall of Fame Introductions – 2:45 p.m.
Finals – 3 p.m.-5:30 p.m. (Three mats – First, third and fifth place finals)
125 pounds: 4
133 pounds: 2
141 pounds: 7
149 pounds: 4
157 pounds: 5
165 pounds: 5
174 pounds: 4
184 pounds: 5
197 pounds: 5
285 pounds: 4