It was the last guaranteed chance to wrestle for Harvard this season as the Crimson squad headed to Philadelphia for the EIWA Championships, hoping to vie for bids to the NCAA Tournament. After a hard fought weekend, the team notched one confirmed bid to NCAA’s and a 12th place finish overall.
“This was where we wanted to wrestle our best,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “We had five guys place higher than their seeds, three of whom went in unseeded. We had an individual champion, and an outstanding wrestler. If you look at it that way, there were a lot of positives.”
The weekend of competition had its ups and downs from beginning to end. While Harvard finished with its first individual EIWA Champion since 2010, the Crimson also suffered tough losses early on in the lineup.
“I think that we definitely could have wrestled better,” sophomore Devon Gobbo said. “There were a bunch of guys who wish that they had placed just a little bit higher to get that trip to NCAA’s.”
One of the hardest losses of the tournament came from two-time NCAA tournament qualifier and dual season standout James Fox. The junior co-captain had seen a highly successful regular season, carrying a personal record of 14-7 into the match. Fox took down his first opponent, Bucknell’s Tyler Lyster, but soon saw his ten-match winning streak come to an end, as he dropped his first match in overtime, losing by fall to Binghamton’s Cody Reed. The junior then dropped his match by fall to Navy’s Paul Rands.
“He did not wrestle his best, and he had a couple tough breaks,” Weiss said. “I thought he could’ve been in the finals. He’s just that good. I know it hurts him, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that he’ll get another shot, and win that wildcard bid to nationals.”
Following the first day of competition, five Harvard wrestlers remained in contention for an EIWA title.
Of these five, Todd Preston was the only one to take his run all the way. In a nail-biter championship matchup, Preston managed to win in overtime to take first place in the 141 lbs. weight class, garnering Most Outstanding Wrestler honors along with the title.
“We knew how good he is going into this, and he wrestled extremely well this weekend,” Weiss said. “He’s been wrestling really well coming down the stretch. In his finals match, there were a lot of really tough calls, and but he managed to keep his composure the whole time.”
“Seeing him go out there and accomplish his personal goal was really exciting for everyone on the team,” Gobbo added.
Several Crimson wrestlers also snagged a spot on the podium. Jeffrey Ott, co-captain Cameron Croy and Gobbo each notched sixth place, while heavyweight David Ng picked up a seventh place finish.
“We had a lot of guys go out there and do great things, in spite of the fact that they didn’t win overall,” Weiss said. “Nick Stager had a tough year and came out and won, David Ng had a huge performance this weekend, and Jeffrey Ott also really showed up.”
For Croy, his hard-fought sixth place finish was bittersweet. The senior managed to post two big upsets over Army’s fourth-seeded Ryan Tompkins and Princeton’s fifth-seeded Brett Harner before falling in the semis to Cornell’s top-ranked Gabriel Dean.
“It’s always tough for me as a coach to see my athletes finish their career,” Weiss said. “But I’m happy for him. He went out and wrestled well, and I’m glad that he can say he placed in his last tournament. It’s obviously bittersweet but he did a nice job, and I’m very proud of him.”
In spite of his podium finish, Gobbo also ended his season on a tough note, missing a nationals bid by one place as he fell to Boston University’s Mitchell Wightman in the fifth place match.
“I didn’t perform the way I wanted to,” Gobbo said. “And it was really hard to lose that last match and know I wasn’t going to nationals, but I was also really happy to be able to wrestle after being out with an injury for the past eight weeks.”
The end may have been less than ideal, but Harvard still has Nationals to prepare for.
“I don’t think we wrestled our best, but as a team we wrestled well,” Weiss said. “We still have room to grow. But I’m pleased, and I’m even more excited for the next step. Now we get out to Nationals, and I think we have the potential to really do well out there.”
—Staff writer Jillian Dukes can be reached at email@example.com.