A season of hard work, grueling training and dedication finally culminated for the Harvard wrestling team this weekend at the EIWA Championships in Philadelphia.
But no season came to a more illustrious fruition than Todd Preston’s.The sophomore defeated Hofstra redshirt senior Luke Vaith at 141 pounds, 8-6, in second sudden victory overtime to clinch the Crimson’s first individual EIWA title since 2010.
Preston became the 21st wrestler in Crimson history to claim an EIWA title and the first Harvard titlist in the 141 division since Dustin DeNunzio ’98 claimed the crown in 1998.
Overall, Preston’s win was the team’s first EIWA Championship triumph since current Harvard assistant coach J.P. O’Connor ’10 claimed victory at 157 en route to an undefeated season and NCAA championship in 2010.
“It felt really good [to win],” Preston said. “Especially with [O’Connor] as my coach now. He’s been giving me the confidence to achieve my goals this year…. Without him, I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish this.”
Preston also became the fourth Crimson wrestler ever to receive the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler award and the first since Jesse Jantzen ’04 at 149. Harvard coach Jay Weiss and his staff recognized Preston’s potential at the beginning of the season.
“The coaches knew how good [Preston] was early on,” Weiss said. “It was just a matter of time for him to figure out how good he is. He really started doing that the past five to six weeks of the season, and he was very strong this past weekend. I’m just happy for him…. He kept his composure, worked hard, and did a nice job.”
The sophomore entered the weekend seeded fourth in the conference and ranked 15th nationally. Preston swept his four matches at the championships. He began by defeating Sacred Heart junior Andrew Polidore and Lehigh sophomore Laike Gardner on Saturday.
On Sunday, he shut out Boston University junior Tyler Scotton, 5-0, in the semifinal and edging the ninth-ranked Vaith in the championship match on Sunday.
In the final, Vaith took a 2-0 first period advantage before Preston earned a reversal to tie the score at the end of the opening stanza. The Crimson wrestler would score an escape point in the second period to edge a point ahead, but Vaith took control in the third period with an escape and a stalling call.
As time expired, it appeared that Vaith would clinch his first EIWA title. But with just over 10 seconds left in regulation, Preston scored a late takedown to force overtime.
Both wrestlers obtained an escape in the first extra frame, as a defensive stance by Preston held Vaith at bay for the majority of the period.In the second overtime session, Preston evaded a shot and outmaneuvered Vaith, scoring the decisive takedown and claiming the crown.
The title marks the high point of what has been a breakout season for the young star. After a freshman season that was littered with injuries, limiting Preston to a mere 13 appearances on the mat, the sophomore posted a 23-8 overall record to lead the Harvard men and earn All-Ivy League second team accolades.
With the top-five conference finish, Preston earned his first NCAA Championship bid. He will be Harvard’s sole representative in Oklahoma City on March 20-22. The Hampton, N.J., native is looking forward to competing on the national stage.
“I’m just going to have fun,” Preston said. “It’s just another tournament—just more fans, more people supporting, [and] that’s all it is. It’s an opportunity to have fun and do the sport I love. That’s how I’m approaching it.”
This easygoing attitude should help Preston later this month. Weiss noticed that Preston carried a similar mindset into the EIWA Tournament.
“The night before [the tournament] we had a meeting,” Weiss said. “He was really loose and relaxed, to the point where he left the room, came back, and [asked me] if [being relaxed] was the right thing to do. It just showed how relaxed he was.... He just wanted to take it one match at a time.”
Preston’s efforts helped lead the Crimson to a ninth place finish out of 18 teams in the tournament, the second straight year in which Harvard finished inside of the top 10. Harvard also finished with the third highest result out of the six Ivy League schools in the EIWA, beating 10th-place host Penn, 12th-place Princeton, and 16th-place Brown, while finishing behind fifth-place Columbia and champion Cornell.