Sophomore Todd Preston’s run to the quarterfinals was the highlight of Harvard’s appearance in the NCAA Championships. Represented by Preston and junior James Fox, the Crimson wrestling team managed to tally two points on the weekend, finishing tied for 58th place finish out of the 72 teams in competition at the tournament in the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Penn State won the championships with a combined 109.5 points, edging out Minnesota by five and a half points.
“It wasn’t the result that we wanted, not getting an All-American,” Fox said. “But this is the national tournament. The level of wrestling out here is the best in the country. It’s absolutely insane.”
Preston entered as the 10th seed in the 141-pound weight class in the tournament. In the quarterfinals, the sophomore found himself pitted against the No. 2 seed Logan Stieber, the two-time 133-pound NCAA champion from last season hailing from Ohio State. With 1:29 remaining in the match, Stieber was able to maneuver adeptly and pin the sophomore, ending the match in favor of the Buckeyes and sending Preston to the consolation bracket.
“I fell short of my goals by one match,” Preston said. “But I proved a lot to myself. I proved that I’m up there with the best kids in the country.”
Preston still had a chance to advance through wrestlebacks after his loss to Stieber. In the first round, Preston was pitted against the No. 13 seed Stephen Dutton of Michigan. The Wolverine emerged victorious after a 2-1 decision in his favor, ending Preston’s hopes of standing upon the podium at the end of tournament.
“I was just one point away from achieving my life-long goal of being an All-American,” Preston said. “But sometimes that’s a good thing—to fall short of your goals—just to fuel the fire to come back stronger next year.”
Although Preston failed in his upset attempt against Stieber, the sophomore fared better in the round of 16 against No. 7 seed Zach Horan of Central Michigan, to whom he had lost to in the past. Preston handily defeated the redshirt sophomore, 6-2, landing him in a match against Stieber.
“I knew what his offense was going to be and I planned accordingly,” Preston said. “I controlled the match, controlled the pace, and came out on top.”
Preston opened the weekend with a much tighter match. After giving up a takedown early in the match, the sophomore was able to get by Daniel Neff of Lock Haven in overtime, edging the redshirt sophomore in tiebreakers, 7-4, to avoid a first-round exit.
“Being able to come out for NCAAs was just a great opportunity,” Preston said. “There is no professional wrestling. This is as big as it gets. It’s a lot of fun. [There’s] a lot of fans and it gets loud in there.”
Harvard junior James Fox , wrestling at 197 pounds, was Harvard’s other wrestler that made the trip to Oklahoma City.
The third-year standout started the first match in control against No. 8 Phillip Wellington of Ohio, pancaking his opponent to the mat to grab an early lead. Despite entering the final period with the lead, he gave up a reversal with Wellington starting the period on bottom, conceding the lead that he was unable to recover, and falling 6-5.
This marks the second year that Wellington was able to knock off Fox in the first round of the competition. Both wrestlers were unranked in last year’s tournament.
“This is definitely a tournament where sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw,” Fox said. “You can get a good road and have a good tournament and … be right there on the podium or sometimes you meet some a couple people when it’s not your day and you lose some close matches.”
Fox again got off to a fast start in his consolation match against No. 9 Christian Boley of Maryland. But the junior got caught on his back, conceding five points to the Terrapin as he fell to Boley, 9-3.
“It’s tough when you give up five points against guys at this level,” Fox said. “It’s really hard to battle back from.”
Harvard’s 58th place finish is a drop off from last year’s 41st place finish. The team managed to garner four points with three wrestlers last season.
This marks the fourth straight year that the Nittany Lions have taken home the NCAA Championships title. Penn State and Minnesota led the field with seven All-American finishes.
—Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.