It was a bittersweet afternoon for the Harvard wrestling team when it welcomed Rutgers to the Malkin Athletic Center Sunday.
Co-captain Walter Peppelman stood out as he became just the seventh Crimson wrestler to reach 100 collegiate wins in a dramatic overtime victory, but Peppelman’s individual triumph could not carry Harvard (2-4, 0-3 EIWA). The Scarlet Knights (12-2, 5-0 EIWA) swept seven of the ten weight classes and beat the Crimson, 26-9.
Coming off a 24-15 loss to Cornell on Saturday in which Harvard remained in contention for most of the afternoon, the Crimson struggled to contain the Red Knights’ after they dominated three of the first four weight classes.
“I thought that [the performance against Cornell] could be a big springboard, quite honestly,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “Coming into Sunday’s match with Rutgers, I knew they were tough, and we actually didn’t match up well with them.”
The Crimson started off the day with a strong performance by Peppelman—who is ranked eighth at 157 pounds—who fought back from a first-period deficit against No. 17 Scott Winston to send the match into a sudden victory period.
The two were evenly matched at the start of the one-minute overtime, but Peppelman seized control after 50 seconds and took the victory, 4-2, ensuring himself a spot in the Harvard record books.
“Walter’s been a great leader and a tremendous teammate and competitor,” said co-captain Steven Keith. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how great it is. One hundred matches is a lot in college wrestling, and he deserves every win that he got.”
Keith—ranked 10th in the 141-pound weight class—did not fare as well as his co-captain. In his third pin of the season, Rutgers’ Trevor Melde picked up the win by fall at the 2:56 mark.
“I ended up taking a couple nice shots in the first period but got into a scramble,” Keith said. “The kid from Rutgers is real tough. He’s been around for a while, so he was able to catch me on my back and pin me. He’s good, but I know if I see him again, I have a good shot to change what happened.”
Despite picking up the first win of the afternoon from Peppelman, Harvard was unable to generate momentum. Rutgers picked up consecutive wins in the 165, 174, and 184-pound weight classes as freshman Devon Gobbo, junior Cameron Croy, and sophomore Josh Popple fell to their Scarlet Knight opponents.
The Crimson snapped Rutgers’ winning streak in the 197-pound weight class after sophomore James Fox dominated Scarlet Knight Hayden Hrymack with takedowns early in the match. Harvard couldn’t hold on to pick up two in a row when heavyweight freshman Nicholas Gajdzik tied up the score at one in the third period to send the match into tiebreakers but was ultimately defeated by Rutgers’ Billy Smith.
“Saturday night we won the close bouts, and Sunday we lost the close bouts,” Weiss said. “There were three close bouts that we lost on Sunday that if they go the other way it’s a different game. That’s the sport of wrestling. You’ve got to win the close bouts.”
After the close heavyweight match, the Scarlet Knights continued to pick up wins, sweeping the next three weight classes before Rutgers’ Ken Theobold dropped the last match to Harvard freshman Todd Preston in the 149-pound weight class.
Competing in back-to-back matchups on Saturday and Sunday, Weiss said that fatigue was not a factor against Rutgers.
“That’s the nature of our sport,” Weiss said. “Obviously that’s not easy, but it’s no excuse.”
In addition to Peppelman, Scarlet Knight Dan Rinaldi also picked up his 100th collegiate victory in an 18-5 downing of Popple in the 184-pound weight class. Despite his team suffering two consecutive losses this weekend and dropping four of its last five—with the sole win coming against Stanford two weeks ago—Keith said he was optimistic about the remainder of the season.
“We wrestled pretty well as a team,” Keith said. “Obviously we lost, but I saw some good things from a bunch of different guys. Some of the mistakes that were made are easy to fix, so I think we’ll be fine for the rest of the season.”