Preston at Head of Pack

Five Crimson wrestlers place in the East Stroudsberg Invitational

Lowell K. Chow

Each time Robbie Preston hit the mat last year from early December through March, the match ended with Preston’s arm raised in the air.

The junior started off this season by reminding everyone that, while he may be a year older and a few pounds heavier, one thing still hasn’t changed: Preston hasn’t learned how to lose.

Making the jump from the 125 lb. bracket to the 133 lb. bracket didn’t affect Preston’s ability to wrestle successfully, and he walked away with the title from the East Stroudsberg Invitational on Saturday.

Preston started his six-match win streak in dramatic fashion, pinning Tyler Howard of Army in just 30 seconds. He continued to dominate his opponents, winning one match with a major decision and another by technical fall before putting away East Stroudsberg’s Nate Narouth 9-7 in the title bout.

Preston was one of five Crimson wrestlers to place at the Invitational, a promising beginning for a team plagued by injuries and lacking strong athletes in several weight classes last year.

“The team as a whole will be much stronger this year,” tri-captain Mike Baria said. “Late in the tournament, everyone was still wrestling and wrestling well. We are strong across the board.”

Freshman Louis Caputo (184 lbs.) took home third place, the next-best finisher for Harvard. Sophomore Matthew Button (149 lbs.) came in fourth, and freshman Andrew Flanagan (157 lbs.) finished in fifth place. Sophomore Joseph Bechtold rounded out the place-winners, taking eighth in the 174 lb. bracket.

Caputo came impressively close to fighting in the title match in his bracket but lost a close 2-1 match to Dave Helfrich from Lehigh. Caputo’s wins were far from close: he beat out Shippensburg’s Mark Murphy 7-4, defeated Darius Caldwell from Citadel 7-2, and won by fall in 1:58 over American’s Ed Mecklenburg.

“This year’s freshman class is particularly strong,” Baria said. “Now, we have almost two guys in every weight class.”

Button won his first three matches before losing a heartbreaking 1-0 to Chris Ramos of North Carolina. Button yielded just four points in his first three matches. He went on to win three more, blanking Dan Vallimont of Penn State, to face Ricky Turk of Columbia in the third-place match, where he lost 5-0.

To get to the semifinals, Flanagan won by two major decisions and two falls. He pinned No.17 James Strouse of Hofstra in the quarterfinals before losing 9-2 by Strouse’s teammate, Mark Parziale.

Bechtold won four matches on the day to take home his eighth-place title, winning one by technical fall 15-0 and pinning his two other opponents in 5:19 and 3:42. Bechtold’s wins come after a year of not competing due to injury, but Baria explained the team was not surprised with his success.

And Baria (157 lbs.) himself wrestled well for the Crimson, though he was unable to take home a title. He won four matches on the day.

Notably, junior Bode Ogunwole, whose victories came hand-in-hand with Preston’s for most of last year, did not finish with a title. Ogunwole won his first match over David Robinson from Gloucester Community College before losing the next two. Ogunwole was pulled because the team did not want to aggravate an injury and prevent him from wrestling in the future.

Harvard returns to action in two weeks at the Cliff Keane Invitational in Las Vegas.

“This weekend highlighted a lot of strengths and weaknesses we can’t see in our own wrestling room,” Baria said. “That will help us when we head to Vegas.”

—Staff writer Megha Parekh can be reached at