New Energy, Talented Youth Help Drive Optimism For 2012-13 Wrestling Season
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 different now.
"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 next year.
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 will follow.
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 now."
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 it all."
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.
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.
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 season.
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 room.
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 level.
Senior Greg Field will also add depth to this weight class.