The varsity wrestling team wraps up its season this weekend at the EIWA championships at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Last year, the affair was undeniably a disaster for the Crimson, as the squad sputtered to an eleventh-place finish in a field of 15 schools, freshman Sal D' agostino's fifth place finish standing as the best individual effort.
Going into this year's competition, prospects aren't exactly bright, but improvement over last year's performance seems likely.
Crimson coach Johnny Lee feels that the last three men in his lineup, Captain Jim Strathmeyer (177 lbs.), D' agostino and Kip Smith (UNL), stand the best chance of advancing into the final rounds of the tournament. The top three finishers in each weight class are rewarded with an invitation to the NCAA finals in Tucson, Arizona.
Harvard's effort will be hampered, however, by the absence of standout lightweight Milt Yasunaga (126 lbs.), who is out of action with a knee injury, and Tom Bixby (150 lbs.), who broke his collar bone last week against Yale.
For the two teams that will fight it out for the championship, Navy and Lehigh, the season is still very much inprogress. Lehigh was last year's winner with seven of the 10 individual champions.
But for Harvard and other squads without a realistic chance of winning, this is more a time to sit back and reflect on the dual-meet schedule just completed and to look forward to the resumption of competition next year.
In 1972, John Lee's Crimson team was a powerhouse, running up an 8-4-2 record. The next year, a graduation-ravaged squad finished at 5-11. Since then, the program has been making terribly slow, but nevertheless sure progress, going 6-10, then 6-9, and 7-8 this year.
Since four of this year's setbacks were squeakers that the Crimson just barely managed to lose, and eight regulars are due to return next year, the future looks bright.
There's only one problem with this rosy picture--it's an old story. Every year, the wrestling team seems to be made up of underclassmen, but in the end, the rigors of the program claim more casualties than graduation.
Tucked in a rear corner of the IAB, the wrestling room is as obscure as the sport is at Harvard. The room is dark, damp, and hot. "There are just too many things at Harvard more exciting than working here all winter," Lee said, "especially when you're not winning."
Two wrestlers from last year with poor records, Bill Haley and Mitch Silverman, failed to return this year. Bob Cusumono, a talented grappler who made a habit of running out of gas in the late minutes of his matches, quit the team too: George Baker (142 lbs.), who was 13-2 as a sophomore, left the squad last year. He returned this season, but the layoff showed, as he struggled to a 5-8 record.
But the current collection of undergraduate wrestlers seems to be different; all of next year's potential regulars intend to be back the next time around.
Lee feels the reason is the depth that is the prime characteristic of this year's team; nobody on the squad was a real standout, but no one was frustrated, either. Everyone had his share of victories.
So, for the first time since 1972, Lee thinks he can look forward to an upcoming season with a few visions of success dancing in his head.
Regardless of next year's record, however, Lee will be hard put to feel as satisfied as he does this year.
"We didn't have a winning season," he says, "but we had a balanced effort and we always had ten guys out there who gave a damn. There were disappointments, sure, but I still feel it was a great year."