The graduation of J.P. O’Connor ’10—last year’s NCAA national champion in the 157-lb class—and Louis Caputo ’10—a two-time All-American—left the Harvard wrestling squad with a lot to live up to.
And at this year’s NCAA Championships in the City of Brotherly Love, two Harvard wrestlers, sophomore co-captain Walter Peppelman and sophomore Steven Keith, did their best to match those expectations.
The Crimson finished 35th overall with 12.5 team points, but the No. 11 seed Peppelman earned eighth place and All-America honors for the first time in his collegiate wrestling career, while Keith went 1-2 for the tournament and ended his sophomore year with a 23-17 record.
Peppelman capped off his season with a 33-7 record, the seventh-most wins in a season in Harvard history.
“Our whole goal of the program is to make an impact at the national tournament,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “Coming back with an All-American with only two guys out there is a huge success. That’s what we shoot for.”
Competing in the same weight class as O’Connor, Peppelman had a lot on his shoulders heading into competition. But he seized the moment early on and breezed through his first-round match, pinning Vincent Salminen of North Dakota State in just 32 seconds.
Despite the easy victory, Peppelman could not carry the momentum over into the second round against No. 6 Derek St. John of Iowa.
St. John started out with an early lead over Peppelman and never let up against his opponent on his way to an 8-2 victory.
Peppelman turned things around the second day of the tournament.
The No. 11 seed went 3-1 for the day, starting out with a 10-7 win over DJ Meagher of Cornell. Peppelman secured the victory in the third period by taking down his Ivy opponent in their third match-up of the year.
Next Peppelman displayed another dominant performance over Northern Iowa’s David Bonin, pinning him in a mere 39 seconds.
He followed that up with a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over No. 12 Paul Young.
In his fourth match of the day, Peppelman had the edge against No. 1 seed Adam Hall with a 10-4 lead, but then Hall pinned him 40 seconds into the second period when Peppelman went in for a takedown.
“It was really disappointing,” Peppelman said. “It is a learning experience, and I won’t let it happen again. It was just a lack of focus.”
Due to the loss against Hall, Peppelman was battling for seventh place. Peppelman stayed close to No. 7 Bryce Saddoris, but ultimately lost, 4-3.