It came down to one match.
The entire Ivy league watched as sophomore Andrew Ackil lined up against his heavyweight counterpart from Brown. With the team score knotted, the outcome of this match would decide whether Harvard would force a three-way tie for second place in the Ivy League, with Brown and Cornell, or whether Brown would monopolize that sought after position.
It was a battle of titans, as the two massive men met at center mat. The match was give and take, back and forth, as the fate of the league hung in the balance. In the end the Brown behemoth proved too much for Ackil and Harvard succumbed, losing the match by a mere four points, 20-16.
Naturally, all the pressure seemed to fall on Ackil, but the loss was not his alone.
"You win as a team, you lose as a team," said junior co-captain Joel Friedman. "Anthony wrestled a great match against a talented opponent, the loss was far from his fault. You have one or two matches swing the other way and you take home a win."
Nowhere was this more evident than during the defending Eastern champion Ed Mosley's match at 158 pounds. This overtime thriller could have gone either way, and a victory would have caused a six point swing and given the Crimson a win.
"It was so close that it might as well have been a coin flip," Friedman said.
The disappointment was great, but the Harvard squad did much to prove its insurgent claim to national prominence. The fact that the team maneuvered itself into a position to claim second place so late in the season in a league that generally has two top-twenty teams--Penn and Cornell--is a testament to their continuing improvement.
But such growing respect does not satisfy as deeply as a win.
"I'm getting pretty sick of hearing how close we got, how next time we'll beat him," said Friedman. "Losing sucks, and we have to make sure we aren't getting complacent about coming close, about just showing up to wrestle."
But redemption was quick, for the Crimson was able to avenge its hard fought loss in just a few short hours. The BU terriers were no match for the more talented--and now more emotional Harvard squad--and they were beaten handily to close out the Crimson regular season with a win.
But the wrestlers will not be looking back to the disappointing loss on Saturday; instead, they will now be looking forward to the postseason. With the regular season having come to an end, each individual wrestler will now be focused solely on the upcoming tournaments.
On March 7 and 8, at the Eastern tournament in Penn, the Crimson will begin their quest to better last season's record-setting performance. They hope to surpass the five Eastern place winners and three NCAA qualifiers of last year's team, both achievements Harvard records. They also plan on bettering the sixth place team finish, the highest placement for any Harvard squad since 1947.
"We're definitely a tournament team," said head coach Jay Weiss. "We tend to perform much better in tournaments than we do during dual meets. We have a good number of guys who can potentially qualify for the NCAA's."
With about two weeks off before the tournament begins, it would be normal for any coach to worry about players losing focus and fitness. But coach Weiss sees the break as a perfect opportunity to make sure his team is prepared for the upcoming tournament.
"I'm not sure if all our guys are ready now, but I do know that come the second weekend in March they will be," said Weiss.
The Crimson should be able to parlay the emotion of the close loss to Brown and the intense training of the next two weeks as perfect motivation for the tournament. There they can prove to the nation, and to themselves, their worthiness to perform on the national stage.