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Months of training and perseverance led them to the national championships. Many times they were injured or dejected, fighting to just get through the grueling season, but always with their eyes on the ultimate prize. In just three days, the Crimson witnessed the culmination of a whole season’s work—the end of a journey that now begins anew—and realized a triumph that gave but a glimpse of its ever-increasing potential.
The Harvard wrestling team recorded historic results this weekend at the Palace at Auburn Hills, earning its highest ever point total at nationals—29, enough to finish tied for 22nd—and seeing three wrestlers qualify as All-Americans, including the first freshman All-American in program history.
“To come back with three All-Americans, there’s not much more I could ask for,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “That’s what we trained for and everything just came together.”
All four Crimson wrestlers reached the round of 12 at the tournament, where a win means an All-American nod and a loss means an exit.
“If you have one [wrestler] in the round of 12, it’s nerve-racking,” Weiss said. “But we had four, and three of them back-to-back.”
Tri-captain Max Meltzer (141 lbs.) came back to win two straight matches after a first-round loss before clinching All-American status by defeating Michael Keefe of Chattanooga in a 13-9 decision. Meltzer would finish eighth after losing to Jeff Jaggers of Ohio State, 7-1, in the seventh-place bout.
“I had a tough first round again,” said Meltzer, who also lost in the first round at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships two weeks ago. “I made a couple of mistakes, mistakes that cost me the match, but I was about able to bounce back like I did in the conferences.”
“In this tournament, losing in the first round is like the kiss of death,” Weiss said. “You get behind the eight ball and it’s not easy to recompose yourself and fight back, but he stormed back like the leader he is. It shows what kind of character this team is made of.”
Sophomore Louis Caputo became an All-American for the first time in his collegiate career, placing seventh at 184 pounds. After going 3-1, Caputo recorded a 6-3 decision against fifth-seeded Raymond Jordan of Missouri and went on to defeat Josh Arnone of Cornell—whom he wrestled against in the EIWA semifinals—in the seventh-place bout, 2-0.
“Louis just dominated his opponents,” Weiss said. “His scores might be close but he just shut people down.”
Freshman J.P. O’Connor finished his historic rookie season by placing fifth at 149 pounds. After losing in the quarterfinals to No. 3 seed Ryan Churella of Michigan, O’Connor defeated Aaron Martin of Chattanooga, 6-3, and Matt Coughlin of Indiana, 4-3, to become one of only two true freshman All-Americans in the tournament. In the third-place bout, O’Connor faced top seed Dustin Schlatter, who had been upset the day before, and lost 5-4, but captured the fifth-place bout in a 6-4 decision.
“J.P. lost by one point against the returning national champ,” Weiss said, “so it just goes to show where he is at this point of his career.”
Tri-captain Robbie Preston, competing at 133 pounds, was the only Crimson wrestler to fall short of All-American honors. He finished 3-2 in his third appearance at the nationals, losing in the round of 12 to Jake Strayer of Penn State, 9-6.
“It was an extremely frustrating year,” Weiss said. “The whole team just kept believing, even though every time we turned around something would happen. But what these four guys did in the pressure match, where your season is either going to be over or you’re going to achieve your goal, the way they wrestled in that round just shows me this program is taking a big step forward.”
—Staff writer Tony D. Qian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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