Despite some thrilling and dominant individual victories, the injury-plagued No. 25 Harvard wrestling team fell to Army in its home opener at the Malkin Athletic Center Saturday afternoon, 24-17.
After injury and illness forced the Crimson to forfeit the first two weight classes, Harvard found itself starting the match down 12 points. But in front of a lively home crowd, Harvard went on to win five of the eight contested matches, closing the Black Knights’ lead to one before Army snatched the win.
Junior co-captain Walter Peppelman, currently ranked No. 4 in the country in the 157-lbs. weight class, described the team’s current state in terms all Harvard students can understand.
“It’s like midterm season,” Peppelman said. “It’s that middle mile. Guys are sick, guys are banged up, but we are going to come through it. We trust our coaches, our program, and ourselves.”
Freshman Patrick Hogan started the proceedings, taking on Black Knight junior Casey Smith. After an early takedown and offensive pressure from Hogan, Smith took control of the match, capturing a 6-2 victory and putting the Crimson in a 15-0 hole.
But the co-captains led Harvard back into the match, as consecutive major decisions from No. 8 Corey Jantzen and Peppelman put the Crimson on the board.
Jantzen dominated his match with Black Knight sophomore Ryan Bilyeu from the get-go, earning his first takedown within 20 seconds. That set the tone for the match, as Bilyeu struggled to shake Jantzen, and the Harvard captain took him down twice more in the second frame. Jantzen continued his dominance in the third frame, earning an 11-0 major decision.
Jantzen’s co-captain did him one better, as Peppelman pummeled senior Jimmy Rafferty, 12-0. The bout was never in question, as Peppelman stormed out to an early lead and never looked back, blanking an opponent for the second straight week.
And after sophomore Ian Roy dropped his match to freshman Cole Gracey, things got testy in the Malkin Atheltic Center.
Crimson freshman Josh Popple, wrestling in the 174-lbs. weight class, notched an early takedown against junior Eric Gobin, but soon Army coach Joe Heskett was on the edge of the mat, arguing that the official missed a call that would have awarded Army points.
The crowd followed suit and began getting louder, as Gobin retook the lead with a takedown of his own. But Popple engineered an effective move to turn the tables and regain the lead. The freshman withstood some late tests from Gobin and finished on top, 9-7.
After whittling down the deficit to seven, Harvard was back in the match.
Sophomore Cameron Croy reduced the visitors’ lead even further. Tied late in the second period against fellow sophomore Michael Gorman, Croy used a powerful takedown to take the advantage and put pressure on the Black Knight grappler. Despite some impressive moves from Gorman, Croy added on another late takedown to win the match, 8-2.
But the match of the day came at 197 lbs., as Harvard freshman James Fox battled through an elbow injury to take on senior Derek Stanley.
“Coming into the match, I really just wanted to control the pace of the match, protect my elbow, and win,” Fox said. “I knew I wasn’t 100 percent, but I just wanted to get out there for my team and do what I could to win.”