A key return and a collegiate debut highlighted the Harvard wrestling team’s 27th-place performance at the 50th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in Evanston, Ill. this weekend. The Crimson’s six-man lineup posted a 12-12 record in one of the largest tournaments on the NCAA circuit.
After taking the first semester off to work, train, and study for the GMAT, co-captain Walter Peppelman was back on the mat for Harvard on Saturday. The two-time All American and No. 4 seed advanced to the quarterfinal of the 157 lb. division, defeating Blomsburg’s Bryce Busler, 6-1, and Eastern Michigan’s Aaron Sulzer, 7-3, before falling to Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan, 3-1.
“This is a tough tournament for [Peppelman] to come back to, but he did well,” Crimson coach Jay Weiss said. “It should be interesting to see where he goes this year with the team. This is his last year, so he’s really got to make some adjustments.”
Peppelman sustained a minor knee injury in the second match. After losing in Saturday’s final session off a second-period takedown, he forfeited Sunday’s consolation match with 11th-seeded Ian Miller of Kent State.
“The coaches and I decided that the best decision was to forego today’s competition and look forward to being with the team and working toward the national championship in March,” Peppelman said.
Peppelman, who has finished eighth at each of the last two NCAA championships, has not left teammates and coaches guessing what his end-season goal is this year.
“The goal is to be a national champion,” Peppelman said. “A lot of it is mental and it’s physical…. It’s just training hard and training smart and working on those little areas I need to fix.”
As Peppelman looks to close out his collegiate career, freshman Devon Gobbo’s is just beginning. An ACL injury had kept Gobbo, the younger brother of junior Harvard wrestler Erik Gobbo, off the mat since October of his senior year of high school. In his first match in 14 months, the 165 lb. grappler defeated Northwestern’s Pierce Harger, the No. 6 seed and 11th-ranked wrestler in the country, in a 10-6 decision.
“What a tremendous way to start a college career,” Weiss said. “We were very slow with him. I didn’t want to bring him back too soon…. That [win] just shows the type of talent he has.”
Gobbo dropped his second match to Stanford’s Jim Wilson, 3-2, but rattled off three more wins in the consolation bracket. Gobbo won a major decision over Binghamton’s Vinni Grella, 9-1; defeated Maryland’s Josh Snook, 6-2; and won a close overtime decision over Oklahoma’s Clark Glass, 4-2, before losing to No. 17 Mark Lewandowski of Buffalo, 9-2.
“I think [Gobbo] proved to himself a lot of things, but the big thing is that he can beat and compete with the top guys in the country immediately, and that’s exciting,” Weiss said.
Two other freshmen also represented the Crimson this weekend. Heavyweight Nicholas Gajdzik posted a 2-2 record on the weekend while classmate Jeffrey Ott went 1-2 in the 125 lb. division.
“I think our freshmen had a great tournament,” Peppelman said. “We’ll be looking for bigger and better things in the future.”
Gajdzik defeated Pitt’s Mike Gregory in the first round with a second-period fall before losing to No. 1 seed Jarod Trice of Central Michigan, 11-2. Ott lost his first match to No. 6 seed Jarrod Patterson and recorded his sole win of the tournament through a forfeit from Wisconsin’s Matt Kelliher.
In the 174 lb. division, Junior Cameron Croy registered two wins in the championship bracket before falling in consecutive matches.
Sophomore Patrick Hogan registered a single win in the consolation bracket of the 141 lb. division with a major decision over Northwestern University’s Justin Meyers, 10-1. Hogan lost to Grand View’s Gustavo Martinez, 7-5, in the championship bracket and to Indiana’s Eric Roach, 3-2, in the wrestleback.
Weiss hopes that a weekend of grappling with some of the nation’s top wrestlers will inspire the Crimson as it heads into the dual-meet portion of its season.
“I think every one of them can take away a positive from this tournament,” Weiss said. “They have to raise their level; they have to match their opponents’ intensity and then some, and this tournament makes you do that.”
-Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com