There is nothing like the anticipation and optimism heading into a new year, and there is no shortage of that for Princeton Wrestling as it heads into the 2013-14 season.
Last year was a uphill battle for an injury-plagued Tiger lineup, but it was not without its highlights. Scott Gibbons led the team with 23 wins as a freshman, while Ryan Callahan capped his best season with a Top 15 victory and a spot on the podium at the EIWA Championships.
But Princeton — coaches and wrestlers alike — expects more this season. And there is reason for that hope.
We tackle some of those reasons in the 10 most pressing questions we have for the upcoming season, which begins Sunday at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open in Binghamton, N.Y.
Also, head coach Chris Ayres shares several thoughts in an extended interview with GoPrincetonTigers.TV, which you can watch by clicking the link in the photo above. You must access the video through the web site; if you receive this release via email, you will need to go to GoPrincetonTigers.com.
1) How will Garrett Frey fare upon his return?
Not only is Frey, Princeton’s most successful wrestler since the graduation of Greg Parker ’03, returning from injury, but he plans on going back to 125 pounds. Frey is trying to make Princeton history by becoming the first four-time NCAA qualifier, but he will also be trying to start Princeton duals off to a successful start. While Frey will be expected to produce on the mat, his leadership on a youth-loaded roster will also be critical.
2) What upperclassman will make “the jump” this season?
Two years ago, Daniel Kolodzik ended his senior season one match short of the All-America podium. Last year, junior Ryan Callahan upset the No. 3 seed at Easterns and fell one point short of NCAAs. Not everybody hits his stride immediately, and Princeton hopes at least one upperclassman can make a big move this season. Two candidates are junior Kyle Roddy and senior Seth Hazleton, both of whom may push each other for the starting spot at 157.
3) What type of style will we see from Adam Krop this season?
Adam Krop specialized in scrambling during his impressive sophomore season, when he placed third at Midlands and reached NCAAs. But it was a scramble at Lehigh that left him with a torn ACL, and he talked about defending his leg better while training at the OTC. Will he still draw opponents into scrambles when he returns, or will he compete with a more traditional style? Most importantly, whichever one he chooses, can he build on his 2012 success?
4) How will the freshman class fit into this season’s lineup?
A Top-20 class nationally, as well as the EIWA’s No. 2 class, suggests the Class of 2017 will play a major role in Princeton’s future. But we have seen freshmen called upon in the starting lineup year after year, and there is no reason to expect this season to be any different. Both Brett Harner and Ray O’Donnell were Top-5 recruits at their weights, so they are certainly a pair to watch.
5) How will the 174-184 weights play out?
Ryan Callahan finished one match short of NCAAs last year at 174. Scott Gibbons led all Princeton wrestlers in wins last season as a freshman at 184. Brett Harner was one of the nation’s top recruits, and could probably wrestle at either weight. Obviously an injury could make this decision easy, but it will be fascinating to see how this competition plays out. It has been a long time since this level of Princeton wrestler has been out of the lineup, but it will happen this season.
6) How will the second year go for last season’s rookie starters?
Princeton started five freshmen at the 2013 EIWA Championships, a formula that often provides better future results than present ones. Scott Gibbons excelled at 184, but everybody else took a fair amount of lumps. Three guys who could be in line for a significant jump are Kevin Moylan (a potential replacement for Zach Bintliff at 149), Judd Ziegler (165) and Cole Lampman (285). Moylan and Ziegler both won 13 matches last season, while Lampman struggled at the start of his first season because of a preseason injury.
7) What can we expect from Chris Perez?
Garrett Frey is a three-time national qualifier, and Adam Krop is a former Top-15 standout. While both return, they aren’t the only ones who missed last season. Chris Perez led all freshmen in 2011-12 with 19 wins, and he did it despite tearing his ACL in February. He wrestled at Easterns with that torn ligament, won twice and placed eighth. He is a gritty, tough performer who is flying under the radar a bit, but could be a major piece to this team’s success this year.
8) What will the Madison Square Garden experience mean for this team?
With Midlands, EIWAs and, ideally, NCAAs on the horizon, there are plenty of big-match environments for this team. But those are individual tournaments, and there is something different when your main focus is your individual bracket. When Princeton takes on Army and Drexel in the Grapple at the Garden Dec. 1, it is an opportunity to compete as a team in a top collegiate environment. It is the kind of experience that can galvanize the roster, and potentially turn a few heads on a national level.
9) How will this team measure up in the Ivy League?
When I talked with anybody who was part of that 3-2 Ivy season of 2008-09, they always bring up the bus ride following the 4-0 New England weekend, which included dual wins over Harvard and Brown. While the season will probably be most remembered for Easterns and NCAAs, most of the season is comprised of duals, and there would be nothing better than seeing Princeton be a competitive force on weekends from December through February, especially against the other five Ivies.
10) How will the new-look EIWA affect Princeton?
As if the league was not challenging enough already, now Binghamton, Boston University, Drexel and Hoftsra are part of the EIWA. While this may make some individual championship paths tougher to navigate, it should also bring 5-6 more NCAA berths to a league that already handed out the second most in the country. If one of those slots end up going to the Orange and Black, that’s a tradeoff Princeton will happily take.