Fresh off a victory over 24th-ranked Rider to open the dual meet portion of its schedule, the Harvard wrestling team fell behind early and could not recover from the deficit, falling to Rutgers, 24-15.
Though the Crimson (1-1, 0-1 EIWA) won more matches in competition than it lost, its forfeit at 125 lbs. and a major decision loss at 141 lbs. forced the group to play catch-up all afternoon against the Scarlet Knights (8-2, 5-0). A late comeback attempt came up short, and Harvard saw its dual meet win streak end at six.
“Today I thought we wrestled really tough,” sophomore Jeffrey Ott said. “We came into the dual meet down a weight, and the guys all responded…. We showed a lot of heart in the close matches, which is something we haven’t always been able to do.”
After a 4-2 win by Ott at 133 lbs. to open the meet, Rutgers’ freshman Tyler Dippery dealt a major blow to the Crimson’s chances of victory with a shutout of fellow freshman Colby Knight.
Filling in for sophomore Todd Preston, who sat out with the flu, and competing in the first dual meet of his collegiate career, Knight was quickly outmatched at 141 lbs., falling behind 8-0 in the first period. Not content with just the commanding lead, Dippery pinned Knight to the mat moments later to put the Scarlet Knights up, 12-3.
Riding the momentum, sophomore Ken Theobold made it two in a row for Rutgers, pinning Harvard sophomore Nicholas Stager just 36 seconds into the 149 lbs. match to extend the Knights’ advantage to 18-3. The pair of pins gave Rutgers a lead it would not relinquish.
With the meet’s outcome all but decided, Harvard captain Cameron Croy kept things interesting with a 6-4 decision victory over redshirt senior Daniel Seidenberg at 197 lbs.
Down six coming into the final match of the day, the Crimson needed heavyweight sophomore Nicholas Gajdzik to win by a pin over 19th-ranked Billy Smith to tie the Scarlet Knights.
The Rochester, MI native fought hard against the 2013 NCAA Championships at-large contender and took the match to two overtimes. But Smith had a little more in the tank at the finish line, collecting two points with the clock winding down to clinch the Rutgers victory.
“[Nicholas] did a great job today,” Crimson coach Jay Weiss said “He put himself in a position to win, and [you] can’t ask for anything more than that…[against] a good wrestler like [Billy] Smith.”
All afternoon, in both its wins and losses, the Scarlet Knights made the Crimson sweat.
At 157 and 174 lbs., Harvard’s Tyler Grimaldi and Eric Morris both saw their matches be decided late in the third. Grimaldi took down Rutgers’ Corey Stasenko with seconds remaining for an 8-5 victory, while Morris was taken down by Rutgers’ Phillip Backukas and lost the match, 3-1.
Despite the loss, there were multiple bright spots for Harvard on the afternoon. With the Crimson forfeiting at 125 lbs. for the second time of the weekend, Ott opened the meet once again at 133 lbs. After losing by decision 24 hours earlier, Ott was determined to rebound.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit since I’ve injured, and I just came back to the team,” Ott said. “I made a lot of adjustments from yesterday…and it was exciting to see the changes I’ve been trying to implement [get results].”
And after running out the clock in the third period with the score tied at two against redshirt senior Vincent Dellefave, Ott seemed to be in trouble in overtime, with Dellefave grabbing the Crimson wrestler’s left leg and putting Ott on his back. But the Chelmsford, Mass. native escaped and quickly turned the tables on his opponent, scoring two points for the sudden death victory to cut the deficit to 6-3.
“Jeffrey had a rough go of things in mid-December…and yesterday didn’t go well for him, he didn’t wrestle his best,” Weiss said. “For him to turn that around…shows a lot of maturity and [the ability] to make adjustments, not focusing on the past loss and [instead] focusing on the task at hand.”
The other high note of the day for Harvard was at 165 lbs., where sophomore Devon Gobbo dominated Rutgers junior and 2013 NCAA Championship qualifier Nick Visicaro throughout for the 7-3 decision win.
“I thought we wrestled tough today, we really did,” Weiss said. “The guys wrestled with a lot of intensity and courage…. I thought we wrestled stronger today than we did yesterday [in the win against Rider].”
—Staff writer Caleb Lee can be reached at email@example.com.
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