After moving into the Top 25 earlier this week, the Harvard wrestling team appeared poised for a breakout performance on Friday night as it faced its toughest opponent thus far, No. 5 Cornell (7-0, 4-0 Ivy). But the highly touted Big Red proved itself worthy of the hype, and the Crimson (4-4, 0-2) couldn’t keep pace, falling, 38-7, in Ithaca, NY.
It was a convincing victory for Cornell, which boasts three wrestlers ranked among the nation’s top ten in their respective weight classes. After a forfeit victory in the 133-pound match, the Big Red claimed seven of the remaining nine bouts, winning three times by decision, once by injury default, once by technical fall, and twice by pin.
But the meet wasn’t without a couple of bright spots for the Crimson. Freshman Ryan Osleeb, seeing his first action of the dual-meet season, defeated Cornell freshman Nick Pena in the 125-pound match. And after a string of Crimson losses, No. 5 Walter Peppelman cruised to an 8-0 major decision over Big Red sophomore Ryan Dunphy, giving Harvard’s junior co-captain a 16-3 record on the season.
Osleeb, who was wrestling in place of sidelined junior Steven Keith, trailed Pena, 3-2, heading into the third period. But in the final frame, Osleeb tied the match at three with an escape before going up 5-3 with a takedown. Pena scored an escape to add one more point, but Osleeb took the tightly contested match with a 5-4 decision.
Freshman Patrick Hogan lost by technical fall in the 141-pound match and co-captain Corey Jantzen was unable to get the Crimson back on track at 149 pounds. Jantzen kept pace with Cornell sophomore Chris Villalonga through two periods, but the senior was unable to escape after starting the third period in the down position, giving Villalonga the 1-0 decision.
Peppelman got out to a 2-0 lead in the 157-pound match and never looked back, narrowing the Crimson’s deficit to seven, 14-7, with the major decision.
Harvard would get no closer following Peppelman’s win. Big Red sophomore Craig Eifert won by injury default over junior Paul Liguori in the 165-pound match, and Cornell’s Billy George won an 8-5 decision over Crimson freshman Josh Popple at 174 pounds.
Sophomore Cameron Croy was pinned in just under three minutes by Cornell senior Steve Bosak, the third ranked wrestler in the nation in the 184 pound weight class. Harvard freshman James Fox suffered a similar fate in the 197-pound match, as he was pinned in just over a minute by first ranked Cam Simaz. Freshman David Ng couldn’t buck the trend of Crimson losses, falling in an 8-3 decision in the heavyweight match.
The undefeated Big Red is the highest ranked opponent the Crimson has faced this year, which, according to Harvard coach Jay Weiss, will serve as critical experience as the team moves toward the elite competition of the national tournament in the coming weeks.
“I firmly believe that our guys have to be battle-tested throughout the year,” Weiss said. “We have to get them wrestling against the best in the country.”
Weiss hopes the high competition level will serve as motivation for his team in the coming weeks.
“Hopefully this will make our guys realize, ‘Hey, if that’s where I want to be…we have to do a little more work,’” Weiss said.
The Crimson received another strong performance from Peppelman, who continues to dominate after posting a perfect 3-0 performance at the Lone Star Invitational earlier this month, earning him EIWA Wrestler of the Week Honors.
“He’s one of the best in the country,” Weiss said. “I know he expects a lot of himself, as do we.”
It was also a big night for Osleeb, who notched his first dual-meet win and the second overall win of his young career.
“He came in and won a big match,” Peppelman said. “That was a great win for him to get under his belt”
Jantzen, who returned earlier this month after missing an entire year due to injury, suffered only his second loss of the year. The senior, Weiss says, is still adjusting.
“He’s going to continually get better,” Weiss said. “He can be so good.”
—Staff writer James M. Acer can be reached at email@example.com.