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In a season riddled with sometimes devastating injuries, it became clear toward year’s end that the success or failure of the Crimson wrestling season would be decided by just four performances at the NCAA Championships in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Harvard had four wrestlers qualify for the nationals: tri-captain Max Meltzer, tri-captain Robbie Preston, sophomore Louis Caputo, and freshman J. P. O’Connor.
The Crimson did not disappoint. The team put up historic numbers at the tournament, earning its highest point total ever at nationals (29), and seeing three of its four wrestlers (Meltzer, Caputo and O’Connor) qualify as All-Americans, including the first ever freshman to do so in program history.
“To come back with three All-Americans, there’s not much more I could ask for,” head coach Jay Weiss said. “That’s what we trained for and everything just came together.”
“The whole team just kept believing, even though every time we turned around something would happen,” Weiss added. “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.”
Early highlights for Harvard included a seventh-place finish—the highest ever for the Crimson—at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, and four wrestlers placing in the top five in their respective weight classes at the Midlands Championships.
Harvard rode the dominating efforts of O’Connor, Meltzer (25-7), and Caputo (30-9) for most of the season, and had tri-captain Bode Ogunwole (11-0) anchor the heavyweight matches before his season-ending injury early in the year.
Juniors Bobby Latessa (165 lbs.), Matt Button (157 lbs.) and Butler (197 lbs.), and freshman Frankie Colletta (165 lbs.) made solid contributions in the middle weights.
The Crimson had a hard time in dual meets partly because of serious injuries to its top wrestlers. Preston, who took the first semester off, was set back by a knee injury, but especially devastating were Ogunwole’s triceps tear in January and sophomore Andrew Flanagan’s injury a month later that also knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Harvard finished with a 5-8-1 dual meet record, and tied for fourth in the Ivies with a record of 2-3.
But when it came down to the deciding moment at the nationals, the Crimson wrestlers were outstanding, with three of four advancing past the round of 12 to become All-Americans.
“At the end of the year, the guys that needed to do well did,” said Preston.
The Crimson saw dominating individual performances not only at nationals, but also at the EIWA Championships, where Caputo took the 184-lb. title, marking the tenth year in a row a Crimson wrestler has earned top honors at EIWA competition. O’Connor took second after a close loss in the finals, and Meltzer and Preston each took third.
Meltzer, who had a perfect 5-0 record in Ivy play, and Caputo both earned First-Team All-Ivy honors, while Flanagan and O’Connor were named to the Second Team. Preston received an honorable mention.
—Staff writer Tony D. Qian can be reached at email@example.com.
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