MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR RUNNER-UP: Peppelman Becomes Face of Harvard Wrestling

Salt and Peppel
Jabulani R. Barber

Sophomore co-captain Walter Peppelman wrestled his way to a 33-9 record this season.

Big shoes can be a burden to fill. Rookie Gary Power on men’s squash lived up to the hype and competently replaced CSA national champion Colin West ’10 as the team’s No. 1. For the Harvard wrestling team, it was sophomore co-captain Walter Peppelman who stepped into the spotlight in a big way this season, despite the squad’s overall lack of success.

The standout achieved a level of success that brings back memories of last year. J.P. O’Connor ’10 accomplished the ultimate feat when he put the wrestling program at the forefront of Harvard athletics with his win at the NCAA championships at 157 pounds.

This year was a similar story. Peppelman followed up on O’Connor’s successful season with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA tournament in the same weight class.

“Everyone was ecstatic,” sophomore Steven Keith said. “It was just an unbelievable feat to just be able to wrestle your way through a top, top tournament the way that Walter did. He came back really strong and stormed his way through the wrestlebacks.”

But his success at the NCAA tournament is not the only thing that garnered Peppelman the distinction of being one of the best Crimson athletes this year. His dominating performances over his opponents, his accomplishments throughout the year other than his finish at the NCAA tournament, and his ability to step into one of the key positions all cemented his candidacy for this distinction.

Coming into the year, junior Corey Jantzen probably held the squad’s best chances for placing at the NCAA tournament, but when a torn elbow ligament sidelined Jantzen for the remainder of the season, Peppelman stepped into the key role on the team, and he achieved enough success to represent the Crimson at the NCAA tournament, He did not disappoint.

Over the course of the season, Peppelman amassed a 33-9 record, placing him at seventh for the most wins in a single season for the program’s history. In dual competition alone, Peppelman was even more dominant, racking up 16 wins to just one loss. In his 33 victories, he pinned his opponents eight times, doubling his career number of pins.

Apart from eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, he also earned All-American and first-team All-Ivy accolades. Even with all of the success, Peppelman still has two more years with the squad to go even further at the NCAA Championships and try to bring home Harvard’s fourth national title. Harvard coach Jay Weiss is hoping to improve Peppelman’s game in some key areas to make him an even stronger competitor.

“The first thing is confidence,” Weiss said. “Now, he has the confidence to compete at that level. He pretty much has to be solid in every aspect of the game: on your feet, offensively, defensively, on top and on bottom…I think his goal of becoming a national champ is a lot clearer now.”

—Staff writer Steven T. A. Roach can be reached at sroach@fas.harvard.edu.

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