Harvard Snatches First Dual Win of Season But Falls at No. 7 Lehigh

Any member of Harvard wrestling will tell you that it’s a long season, but getting an early win never hurts. After struggling for the past few weeks, the Crimson (1-9) earned its first dual victory of 2011 on Saturday, topping Army, 21-12, on the road. Although the momentum did not carry over in a 40-7 loss at No. 7 Lehigh yesterday, Harvard emerged satisfied with its effort on the mat heading into the Ivy League slate.

“I feel like the weekend went really well team-wise,” sophomore Steven Keith said. “We picked up our first win against Army, which had just come off a win against Brown. So, not only were we able to beat them when their spirits were up, but we should be able to beat [some Ivy teams] in the future.”

Of course, a lopsided loss to the Mountain Hawks reminded the Crimson that its work isn’t finished, and Harvard coach Jay Weiss expects his squad to improve.

“It’s not the easiest wrestling environment down at Lehigh,” he said. “Lehigh’s a good team, and they’ve got some top wrestlers…but I think we can walk away learning things from the weekend.”

NO. 7 LEHIGH 40, HARVARD 7

Despite a strong effort in Saturday’s match, the Crimson was no match for the powerful Mountain Hawks (12-5) yesterday at Leeman-Turner Arena. Harvard began the contest with a bang, as Keith (125 lbs.) notched a 10-2 major decision over Mitch Berger to spot his team four points. The win was Keith’s second of the weekend, and Weiss was particularly impressed with the sophomore’s ability to shake off injury.

“Steven and Walter [Peppelman] got banged up [against Army] and weren’t 100 percent today,” Weiss said. “But both wrestled smart and did enough to win.”

According to Keith, the key was simply refusing to be thrown off his game.

“I didn’t really change my approach,” the sophomore said. “I just went into the match and took it head-on and didn’t notice any [pain] until the match was over.”

Unfortunately for the Crimson, though, Lehigh—which bested top-ranked Cornell on Jan. 20—responded to the early setback. The Mountain Hawks reeled off a pair of technical falls and a pin in the next three bouts to take a commanding lead. Harvard’s sophomore co-captain Peppelman (157) did his part with a 1-0 decision over Sean Bilodeau, but the win would mark the Crimson’s last for the weekend. Lehigh swept the upper weights, leaving Weiss assured that his team has work to do ahead.

“When you have young guys going against some of the top guys, you just want them to go out and fight more,” the coach said. “The more times we do that, the more they’re going to grow…I think we’re going to be a better team in a couple of months, because I see [that experience] working.”

HARVARD 21, ARMY 12

An eight-match losing streak followed the Crimson to West Point, N.Y., but Harvard departed Arvin Gymnasium with many of those struggles forgotten. In a solid team victory, the Crimson won seven matches against the Black Knights (7-6), five of which featured freshmen or sophomores.

Keith and classmate Shay Warren (133) posted consecutive decisions to begin the day, but the match proved to be a back-and-forth affair. Freshman Joe Marino dropped a 9-2 decision at 141 pounds, and fellow rookie Joe Alie succumbed to a pin after 4:57.

Facing yet another deficit, Harvard turned to its most consistent grappler—Peppelman. The co-captain, who is currently ranked No. 9 in the country, battled to a 7-5 win over Jimmy Rafferty, his team-leading 18th of the season. Peppelman’s emergence this year has proven particularly critical after junior Corey Jantzen (149) went down with a season-ending elbow injury.

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