For the past several years, the Harvard wrestling team has struggled, but a few of the squad’s standouts have salvaged the season by performing successfully on an individual basis. This season was no different.
The Crimson wrestling squad only saw two team victories for the year, compared to 15 losses overall, but three Harvard wrestlers managed to emerge from the season with winning dual records and finish the season on a high note.
The first of these Crimson standouts was sophomore co-captain Walter Peppelman. When J.P. O’Connor ’10 won the NCAA National Championship last year at 157 pounds, questions emerged about which Harvard wrestlers would be able to rise to the challenge of carrying on his success.
Even though Peppelman fell short of the national title, his 2010-2011 performance gives the wrestling program reason for optimism for future seasons. In only his sophomore year, Peppelman battled to earn an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Over the course of the entire season, he racked up an impressive 33-9 record, giving him the seventh-most wins in a single season in Crimson wrestling history.
In dual competition, Peppelman was almost perfect, going 16-1. The sophomore also earned the distinction of becoming an All-American and being named first-team All-Ivy.
“He wasn’t even in the top-25 rankings at the beginning of the year and was able to place eighth at the NCAA tournament,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “That’s exciting, and it gives us a big momentum shift for next year.”
The team’s other co-captain, Andrew Knapp, was one of the few others on the team to also find success.
As the biggest wrestler on the team, in the 285-pound weight class, Knapp was always the last to wrestle, but his tight matches with opponents never failed to excite.
Knapp finished the season with a 10-10 record and an 8-7 record in the duals, but many of his losses against opponents were by only one or two points. His biggest win of the season came at the EIWA Championships, when he dominated Army’s Christian Botero, 14-0, to earn his first major decision of the year.
Although Knapp had many losses during his first three years on the squad, the senior capped off his career with his best season to date, falling just short of qualifying for the NCAA championships.
For sophomore Steven Keith, his successful freshman season could have been difficult to follow. But Keith did not fall into the sophomore slump that plagues many athletes, finishing off the year with a 23-17 record—more wins than his 20 last season—and holding a 10-7 record in the duals. Keith also finished fourth at the EIWA Championships, just one place shy of his third-place result last year.
Keith may be the smallest wrestler on the Crimson, but his statistics demonstrate that he is powerful on the mats. Keith earned 13 decisions and six major decisions, defeating his opponents by 10 or more points five times. Although Keith faced disappointment at the NCAA championships with one win and two losses, he still has two years to make a run for the title.
“I think I made some really big improvements,” Keith said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t show in the way I wanted it to at the end of the season. I would have liked to make a bit of a run at the NCAA tournament, but I did actually win a match this year at NCAAs, which was nice.”
For junior Corey Jantzen, the season started out successfully but came to an abrupt end in the middle. Jantzen won 12 of his first 17 contests, but his season ended when he learned over January break that he would need surgery after suffering a torn elbow ligament.
“When Corey Jantzen went down, it kind of hurt,” Weiss said. “He obviously had a good shot at playing for the NCAA tournament, so that was a big blow.”
The team may be young, but with Peppelman, Keith, and Jantzen still on the squad for at least another year, Harvard has a shot at more success, both individually and for the team, in 2011-2012.
—Staff writer Steven T. A. Roach can be reached at email@example.com.