Wrestling is a tough, often thankless sport.
Only those warriors who have stepped onto the mat, and their loved ones who watch them suffer through grueling practices and strenuous weight-watching, really appreciate the true worth and high caliber of the sport.
Wrestling at Harvard is no different. The silent gladiators of the mats do not receive the spotlight many other athletes do, which suits many of them just fine. They have learned to accept their lot.
Last weekend, the Harvard wrestling team took their relatively anonymous identities and unshakeable determination into a dual meet against East Stroudsburg University last Friday, and a meet against Rutgers the following Saturday.
The team won 17-16 versus ESU. Freshman Tom Kiler garnered the team's first win at the 134-pound weight class. Junior captain Joel Friedman followed with an 11-2 thrashing of his opponent. Sophomores Ed Mosely (158) and Dan DeVivio (167) also won as did freshman Frank "the Tank" Volpe at 177 pounds.
Harvard lost in a tough battle at New Brunswick, New Jersey that was determined in the last match. Freshman 126-pounder Brett Williams pulled out an important pin in his match but it was not meant to be for Harvard which lost the meet 25-16 to Rutgers.
Also winning for Harvard on Saturday were junior James Butera at 118 pounds, freshman Joey Killar (150), and Ed Mosely who had the most successful weekend for the Crimson winning both his matches.
Harvard's loss on Saturday dropped the team from the .500 mark. Now its record stands as 4-5 as the team wrestles its first Ivy leage match this Friday. But Harvard faithful should not be disappointed.
"We've been wrestling the toughest competition," captain Joel Friedman said. "Although our upcoming opponents may have better records, we have become tougher wrestlers."
"While we have wrestled nationally tough teams like Wisconsin, Central Michigan, and Missouri, teams like Columbia have gone against Bridgewater State and Wagner, hardly perenially-national wrestling contenders."
The team has much to be proud of.
"We're a young team," Volpe said. "But we've been working hard, holding two practices over Christmas vacation and during intercession."
"I think we have a bright future," Volpe continued. "Hopefully, we'll pick it up for the Easterns which are the national qualifiers to the NCAA tournament."
Volpe and the team have more immediate concerns to occupy them. On Friday, Harvard goes up against Penn, one of the tougher teams in the Ivy league. Volpe will be wrestling Clinton Matter who is ranked first in the conference and in the upper half of the top 10 177-pounders in the nation.
"I'm pretty excited about wrestling Clinton," Volpe said. "It'll allow me to see where I'm at right now. I'll see him again at the Easterns and the road to the NCAA travels through him."
Last year only Mosely and Friedman went to wrestling's version of the Big Dance. Friedman will be facing Matter's younger brother, Bret, who won the conference last year and has been ranked as high as fourth this year.
Harvard most likely will be without junior 190-pounder Rob Durbin who will have surgery on his injured knee.
Sophomores Joe Weidle, who will wrestle at 190, and Anthony Ackil have stepped up big for the team, keeping the Crimson competitive in matches. All of Harvard's losses have been determined in the last match.
"The two have helped the team out big time," Friedman said.
On Valentine's weekend, Harvard wrestles its only home matches against Cornell on Friday at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Crimson takes on Columbia and UMass-Lowell. The Crimson gladiators are hoping you will come and show your love.