Once again, the Harvard varsity wrestling team has a good shot at winning the Ivy League championship this year, and once again it isn't a sure thing.
For years, the Crimson wrestlers finished a strong second to perennial champion Cornell in the final season standings. Last year, the Crimson finished a strong second again--only to Princeton. Harvard's wrestlers pulled out a wild, 20-14 victory over the Big Red--its first such victory in Coach Bob Pickett's 18 years here--only to lose to the Tigers, 17-14, in an even wilder meet. Princeton went on to beat Cornell too and capture the Ivy title.
The Crimson kicks off its new season with the by-now traditional Coast Guard Academy Tournament at New London, Conn. The two-day affair begins today.
Coach Pickett has an impressive squad returning this year. Captain Andy Kopecki will probably wrestle at the 123-pound position, filled so capably the past three years by Howie Henjyoji. The other classy senior returning is Paul Padlak (177-191), who has been a consistent winner the past two seasons, although he rarely pins.
The best performer on the team, however, is undoubtedly a junior--short, muscular Danny Naylor (130-137), who last year parlayed a lightning-like lateral drop into a one-loss season (the loss was against Franklin & Marshall, a team the Crimson begins its dual-meet season with next Saturday here.) Naylor got key victories over particularly tough opponents in both the Cornell and Princeton meets last year, and should only be better. He pins, and pins often, an increasing rarity in college wrestling.
Also returning as a junior is Howie Freedman (191), who was undefeated last year and got the decisive victory against Cornell, and heavyweight Bob Panoff, who could be great this year.
The two important Ivy meets--Cornell and Princeton--are both away this year, but the Crimson does meet two of its tough non-Ivy opponents--F&M and Rutgers--in LAB engagements.
The wrestling team developed a growing, rabid following last year, particularly after the Cornell win, and taking a date to the grimy IAB on a Saturday afternoon has become an in-crowd treat.