Injury-Plagued Wrestling Focuses on Long Term
“I think we’ve had one of our best preseasons ever, at least as long as I’ve ever been on the team,” Jantzen said.
Several members of the team hope Harvard can repeat its success from 2001, when it won the EIWA and Ivy championships for the first and only time in school history.
In order to accomplish this goal, the Crimson will have to prove oddsmakers wrong, as both Cornell and perennial powerhouse Penn are ranked above Harvard. Surprisingly, the normally highly-regarded Lehigh is tied for fifth with Rutgers.
“Lehigh and Penn are the two big ones,” Jantzen said. “We haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here. I think the team is really focused on beating them.”
Jantzen, as the star of this year’s talented squad, hopes to lead Harvard to glory again. He is currently ranked first in the EIWA and second in the nation in the 149-lb. weight class. Only No. 1 senior Jared Lawrence from Minnesota, who defeated Jantzen last year 2-0, ranks above him.
A tireless competitor, Jantzen was unsatisfied with his third-place performance last year in the NCAA tournament, even though it was the best finish for a Crimson wrestler since 1953.
Following the season, he went to train with the United States Olympic team and then competed in the World Team trials, where he finished fifth. As a result of his performance, Jantzen has already been invited to train with the United States National Team for the 2004 Olympics, which may require him to take a year off.
“I’m probably about 50-50 right now about [taking a year off],” Jantzen said.
But since the Olympic decision is still a season away, Jantzen is focused on succeeding in a Crimson uniform in the coming months.
“I feel like he has raised his level,” said Harvard coach Jay Weiss.
Jantzen was also the winner of two of six different Harvard wrestling awards from the 2001-2002 season—wrestler of the year and hardest worker.
While much of the Crimson spotlight is focused on its famed junior, this year’s senior class also has a lot to offer.
“We have a very strong senior core on our team this year,” Weiss said.
No. 8 Max Odom (157 lbs.), No. 27 Pat O’Donnell (174 lbs.) and No. 28 Robbie Griffin (165 lbs.) may be the most talented of the eldest class, but they are not looking to national titles at this point in the season.
“[Right now] I’m really focusing on day-to-day things, not really big goals,” Griffin said. “They’ll come at the end of the year.”
Odom, who took last year off to recover from shoulder surgery, recently re-injured the same shoulder.
“We were excited to bring Max back from last year’s [time off],” Weiss said. “But we’re very cautious on that shoulder. It’s a pretty extensive surgery.”
Odom’s status for the remainder of the season has yet to be determined.
“We have to be healthy at the beginning of the season—that’s what we’re training for,” said co-captain Nicholas Picarsic (157 lbs.), who suffered a concussion during preseason.
Junior PJ Jones (174/184 lbs.) and sophomore Eddie Jones (174/184 lbs.) are also ailing.
“Injuries are a big thing that we’re tasting a lot of right now,” Weiss said. “When we’re healthy, I’ll put our lineup against anyone’s.”
But until the Crimson is back at full strength, other Harvard wrestlers will have to fill in, including two freshmen, Max Meltzer and Daniel Jones.
“That kid Max Metzler is gonna be a big part of our team,” Weiss said.
Metzler (133 lbs.) finished third in the 2002 Junior Olympics.
Jones (174/184 lbs.) is the other freshman expected to start in this weekend’s opening tournament for Harvard. He joins brother Eddie Jones and PJ Jones (unrelated) in competition for the spot at 184 lbs.
“We’re all Jonesed up up top,” Weiss said.
Another exciting addition to Harvard’s squad is assistant coach Brian Snyder, a star wrestler from Nebraska.
“He’s been running a lot of our practices,” Griffin said. “They’ve been a little shorter than in years past, but they’ve been a little bit more intense.”
Snyder was a standout at Nebraska, advancing to the national final twice. On his second trip, in 2002, he suffered his only loss of the season against 33 wins, 5-4 in a tie break.
With so much news buzzing around the team, the Crimson is remarkably calm about its season-opening tournament, the East Stroudsburg Invitational.
“You don’t want to concentrate on the outcome,” Weiss said. “You want to make sure everyone is wrestling hard and this is going to be the first time in a long time the guys are going to compete, so there are going to be mistakes.”
The first true test for Harvard will come at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, where several top teams from around the nation will be competing.
“[That’s] where we want to peak first semester,” Weiss said.