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With co-captains Jesse Janzten and Reggie Lee missing in action, and a squad composed of two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior—none of whom had ever attended the Midlands Championships—one could say that the Harvard wrestlers headed into Evanston, Ill. on Dec. 28 unsure of what to expect.
But, as it turns out, what the group got was a little bit of everything.
The invitational, which boasted attendance by 12 out of the top 25 teams in the nation, saw sophomore standout Max Meltzer take seventh place in his weight class as his more fresh-faced teammates turned in very solid efforts on the mat.
“We just wanted to go out there and wrestle hard coming back from a long break,” Meltzer said. “We wanted to show that we were still sharp and able to jump right back in it against some of the top competition in the country.”
The Crimson, however, first had roster concerns to deal with.
With Lee still reeling from an injury suffered at the Cliff Keen Invitational and the Jan. 3 Lone Star Duals approaching fast, Coach Jay Weiss very meticulously chose his five competitors.
“Reggie was still hurt from Vegas and we felt like we needed to give him and [junior heavyweight] Jonas [Corl] a break. Jesse also needed rest as, from this point on, the schedule for him basically goes full-tilt.”
For Harvard, what resulted was a list of individuals who hadn’t gotten the same exposure as some of the other members of the team.
But while his other teammates benefited from the experience, Meltzer simply continued on with business as usual.
Competing in the 141-lb. division, the sophomore ranked No. 19 in the country entered the tournament unseeded, but ultimately garnered a seventh-place finish. He won two straight decisions, his second round victory impressively coming over Pittsburgh’s No. 15 Ron Tarquinio, 3-2. In the next round, he dropped to the field’s top seed, No. 6 Dylan Long from Northern Iowa, 10-5, but later went on to pin Illinois’s Michael Martin in 2:57 to secure his top-10 finish.
“He wrestled very well,” Weiss said. “Max is one of the best in his weight class, and he just needs to show up at big tournaments like this and beat those other guys. Whereas Jesse is already ranked No. 1, Max needs to get that same confidence and knock off some ranked guys. And he was beating the No. 6 guy in the country in the final—who was also second at the NCAA’s last year—with a minute to go.”
The rest of the team turned in admirable efforts as well, in particular freshmen Bode Ogunwole and Robbie Preston.
Ogunwole, competing in the heavyweight division, fought his way to 1-1 record, keeping matches dangerously close against some of the best competition in the country.
“Bode is one of those very interesting guys because he’s had a bunch of close, one point matches,” Weiss said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him actually be taken down, and for a heavyweight that’s amazing. He beat the No. 4 guy in our conference from Cornell handily, and faced one of the top five guys and lost 1-0. He had no idea those guys were ranked, and I don’t even think he himself knows how good he is.”
“That’s the reason I took him and those other type of people to the tournament,” Weiss continued. “It’s not for everyone because it’s a meat grinder, but it’s tough, and it opens some guys’ eyes.”
Preston, on the other hand, overcame an initial loss in the 125-lb. division to notch three straight wins, the latter two on a 4-3 decision and then a technical fall.
In his final round, however, he had to withdraw due to a major concussion which may keep the talented freshman sidelined for the rest of the year. Preston had suffered a concussion at the East Stroudsburg Invitational Nov. 22.
“He lost his first competition 3-2 to the third guy in the nation [Penn’s Matt Valenti], and after that he recovered, but then he was hit again,” Weiss said. “He’s so good, but he might be on the shelf for the rest of the year.”
—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at email@example.com.
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