The Harvard wrestling team found itself facing tough competition in No. 6 Cornell on Saturday at the Malkin Athletic Center. And although the Crimson remained in contention entering the final match, the team ultimately fell to the Big Red, 24-15.
The meet was tied, 9-9, at the midway point, but Cornell pulled away by winning three of the final five matches, two by falls, to secure the bonus points that would help decide the contest.
Although all of the Big Red’s wrestlers had winning records, with four ranked within the top 15 of their respective weight classes, Harvard was able to win five of the ten matches on the night.
“I just thought that every one of our guys wrestled hard,” Crimson coach Jay Weiss said. “And that’s all I asked of them going into the match. I said that I don’t care about outcome; I just want you to focus on maximum effort and try to do something a little extraordinary. And I think they did, and that’s going to really help us.”
Freshman Jeff Ott started the evening off against Nahshon Garrett of Cornell. Although Ott led after the first period, Garrett went on an 11-1 run to seal the victory and his second win of the year over the Crimson freshman.
After Harvard sophomore Ryan Osleeb managed to snag a tight 3-2 victory at 133 lbs, co-captain Steven Keith was dominant from start to finish and to defeat his opponent, 8-1. The two consecutive victories gave Harvard a 6-4 lead.
“If we wrestle that way with that kind of intensity, hard for seven minutes, taking it to whoever we’re wrestling, [then] we’re going to break a lot of teams and hopefully pull out some wins against some good teams,” sophomore James Fox said.
But the Big Red fought back to seize the advantage as Chris Villalonga secured bonus points with a technical fall over freshman Todd Preston.
Although he was nearly pinned at the end of the final period, Crimson co-captain Walter Peppelman managed to hang on and earn his 99th career victory in a 1-0 decision.
With the score tied at nine apiece, Harvard freshman Devon Gobbo was sent out to take on three-time national champion and No. 1 Kyle Dake, who pinned Gobbo in the second minute. Dake has needed just over three total minutes to pin each of his three Ivy League opponents so far this season.
At 174 lbs, junior Cameron Croy edged out the Big Red’s Marshall Peppelman, younger brother of the Crimson’s Walter, by a score of 4-3.
“We were winning those close bouts, and you like to see that,” Weiss said. “Because when the pressure mounts, you have to be able to perform at your best, and I think our guys did.”
Fourth-ranked Steve Bosak, a defending national champion, came out strong and pinned sophomore Josh Popple of Harvard to push the Cornell lead to nine.
In the penultimate match of the day, Fox snagged an 8-5 victory in a back-and-forth bout at 197 lbs, and the Crimson still found itself with a chance to win going into the heavyweight battle. But sophomore David Ng was not able to take down his opponent and fell, 4-2, to seal the Big Red victory.
The wrestlers had the opportunity to perform in an electric environment on Saturday. The bleachers at the MAC were completely full, and some onlookers were forced to either stand or sit on the floor.
“The atmosphere was awesome,” Fox said. “That was as packed as I’ve seen the MAC, and coach said that’s packed as he’s seen the MAC in his twenty years here. We were definitely able to feed off the energy…. I wish all home matches look like that from now on…because it was amazing.”
Harvard was Cornell’s second opponent of the day, as the Big Red arrived in Cambridge fresh off a 35-6 victory over Brown in Providence just five hours earlier.
Losing by nine points to a team of Cornell’s caliber, which has gone 2-2 against schools ranked in the top ten so far this year, is viewed by the Crimson as a step in the right direction.
“I think we’re definitely encouraged, but at the same time we want to be a team like Cornell; that’s why we’re in the business,” Weiss said. “I think this has got to help the guys. Yes, we are encouraged, but we know we have more to do.”