Freshman Rises to Top Against Nation’s Best

O’Connor earns All-American status with fifth place showing

Never enamored with individual accolades, freshman J. P. O’Connor of the Harvard wrestling team finished his first collegiate season this weekend with a fifth place finish at the NCAA Championships and became the first freshman in program history to become an All-American.

Even he could not simply shrug off these accomplishments.

Posting a 37-8 record on the season, O’Connor became the winningest freshman in the history of Harvard wresting. Facing the best competition in the nation, and all the emotions and excitement at the Palace at Auburn Hills, O’Connor showed rare maturity and poise in his first ever appearance at the nationals.

“His goal all along had been to win the national championship,” tri-captain Max Meltzer said.

“He wound up a little short, but he is so talented, and so poised and confident, that he’s able to perform under any circumstance. He’s just a winner, and has some intangible qualities that you can’t teach.”

“There’s anywhere from 15 to 20 thousand fans there,” O’Connor said of the tournament atmosphere. “To see all the effort put into the season culminate in that one tournament is truly amazing. It’s easy enough to be swept away by all the emotions and nerves and everything else that’s going on in an arena like that, but you have to remember the things that made you successful during the year.”

O’Connor, the sixth seed at 149 lb., went 5-2 in the tournament. After dispatching his opponents in the first two rounds, he took on third seed Josh Churella of Michigan in the quarterfinals and lost 6-3.

After coming up short, O’Connor recomposed himself and came back to win two more matches, solidifying his All-American status.

The freshman defeated eighth seed Aaron Martin of Chattanooga, 6-3, and took a tiebreak win over Matt Coughlin of Indiana, 4-2, which guaranteed All-American honors.

O’Connor then challenged the top seed in the tournament for third place, losing a close match, 5-4, before defeating Tyler Turner of Wisconsin, 6-4, to finish fifth.

“The tournament is really humbling,” O’Connor said. “You see the guys in the finals and you see all the things they’re doing right and how they perform under pressure. Personally I know there’s a few things I have to work on, and that’s what our coaches and I are going to do. It’s back to the drawing board.”

For O’Connor, the focus also shifts to the leadership he will be asked to provide next season, especially with the standard that he himself has set for the whole team. He will be asked to set the tone and raise the bar for all of his teammates.

“It’s the exciting part of a journey we started a long time ago,” Head Coach Jay Weiss said. “The new recruits are going to step right into the starting lineup and [the wrestlers on the team] will have to show them it’s doable. Everything we do from now until next March will be to prepare us for these three days at the nationals.”

O’Connor’s goal, however, will remain the same.

“I hope to win at least a few national championships for Harvard,” he said.

—Staff writer Tony D. Qian can be reached at