The Back Page's Athlete of 2011, Round 1: Ortiz v. Peppelman

Published by Robert S Samuels and Scott A. Sherman on January 09, 2012 at 3:12AM

2011 was a big year in Harvard athletics. Women’s soccer captured its third Ivy League championship in four years.  The men’s basketball team took home a share of the Ancient Eight title and entered the nation’s Top 25, both firsts in program history. Football set a modern-era program record for points in a season, scoring 374 points en route to a 9-1 finish and a league crown. Four other teams—men’s fencing, men’s heavyweight and lightweight crew, and softball—also finished 2011 on top of the Ivy League standings.

There were a number of standout individual performances as well. Women’s fencer Alexandra Kiefer captured the NCAA Foil Individual title. Men’s basketball forward Keith Wright became just the second player in Harvard history to take home Ivy League Player of the Year honors. Women’s soccer and lacrosse captain Melanie Baskind was named to the First Team All-Ivy in two different sports and was selected as the Ivy League Player of the Year in soccer.

We at The Back Page have taken on the tall task of determining the best Harvard athlete of 2011. Here’s how it will go down: we’ve selected 16 standout Harvard athletes—eight male and eight female—and set up two single elimination brackets. Each round, Harvard’s finest will square off in head-to-head matchups. And based on their performances in 2011, we will determine who advances and who is eliminated until just one male and one female remain. Then, the two champs will square off to determine the top Harvard athlete of 2011.

First up, we have football stalwart Josue Ortiz against top wrestler Walter Peppelman. Check back later this week to find out the winner of this first-round matchup.

Defensive Tackle Josue Ortiz—10 sacks, 38 tackles, 15 tackles for loss

Billed as one of the top defenders in the Ancient Eight after his monster 2010 season, senior Josue Ortiz lived up to the hype in 2011. Considered perhaps the strongest person in Ivy football, Ortiz was double-teamed on nearly every down yet still managed to lead the conference with 10 sacks. He also formed the core of the vaunted Harvard D-Line, which allowed a league-low 89.7 rushing yards per game.

Unsurprisingly, the accolades started rolling in after the season ended. A third-team All-American for the second straight season and a first-team All-Ivy leaguer, Ortiz was named the MVP of Harvard football, won the Asa S. Bushnell award as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, and took home the New England Football Writers Assocation’s Harry Agganis Award, given to the best senior football player in New England.

And oh yea—he proposed after Harvard beat Yale, 45-7.

Wrestler Walter Peppelman—33-9 overall record, 16-1 in dual action

The graduation of 2010 national champion (and current assistant coach) J.P. O’Connor ’10 left the Harvard wrestling team with big shoes to fill in 2011. But luckily, sophomore Walter Peppelman’s foot was exactly the right size. Wrestling in the same weight class as O’Connor, Peppelman’s 33 wins in 2010-11 ranked seventh on Harvard’s single-season list. In just his second collegiate year, he finished eighth at the 2011 NCAA Championships at 157 pounds.

Despite his relatively young age, Peppelman was also recognized as a leader by his teammates and was named a co-captain before the season began. That honor started off a year of success for Peppelman, who placed fifth at the EIWA Championships and went 16-1 in dual action, ending the season with a 33-9 mark. He also recorded 10 pins, good for 10th most in a season in Harvard history. For his efforts, the grappler was named to the All-Ivy League first team.

In the 2011-12 season, Peppelman has picked up right where he left off, finishing third at the Binghamton Open and winning the Keystone Classic.