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For a team celebrating its 100th season, it’s often hard to come across something that hasn’t been seen or done before.
But in its final dual match of the season this past Sunday, the Harvard wrestling team experienced something completely new by competing at Lavietes Pavilion for the first time in program history.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the new venue was not enough to end the dual meet portion of its schedule on a winning note, as Harvard (4-8, 3-8 EIWA) fell, 29-12, at the hands of No. 25 Lehigh (10-6, 3-8).
“It was a completely new experience for all of us,” freshman Tyler Grimaldi said. “Although it wasn’t necessarily what we are comfortable with or used to, the big home crowd at Lavietes made it feel like home for us.... I hope we get the opportunity to wrestle there again, because it really brought a whole new energy.”
Led by a trio of nationally ranked wrestlers, the Mountain Hawks seized control of the contest from the beginning and notched five bonus-point wins throughout the duration of the meet.
“We have four guys injured in our starting lineup, and that hurt us,” sophomore Todd Preston said. “There are some young guys in our lineup who haven’t gotten to see as much experience as the guys who have been around for the past four years. It’s tough to be thrown in there and to be expected to perform at your best.”
The first of Lehigh’s bonus-point wins came in the opening match, as Harvard junior Max Mejia lost by technical fall to Darian Cruz, 23-6, at 125 lbs.
The Mountain Hawks built their lead when No. 6 Mason Beckman secured a major fall on sophomore Jeffrey Ott at 133 lbs., forcing the Crimson into a 9-0 hole.
Preston succeeded in stopping the momentum in his match to get the Crimson on the scoreboard.
After fighting to a 4-4 deadlock, Preston ran off five straight points to register the first win for Harvard on the day and extend his winning streak to six straight matches.
“I’ve really focused lately on getting rid of my nerves,” Preston said. “I don’t worry about the team score or anything else, I just worry about my match. Rather than wrestling to not lose, I focus on having fun and wrestling at my best, and that’s made a huge difference for me.”
Junior co-captain James Fox also earned a victory at 197 lbs., improving his own winning streak to eight matches.
The first period was a standoff between Fox and Lehigh’s John Bolich, as the pair held each other scoreless. Fox managed an escape in the second period to go up, 1-0.
After Bolich temporarily grabbed the lead, Fox would outmaneuver his opponent in the third to secure a narrow 3-2 victory for the Crimson.
“There was a point in the match where James had scored, and then went down by a point,” Grimaldi said. “There were 15 seconds left, but he just kept fighting.... You could tell that he knew he was going to get the win for his team.”
Freshman Samuel Ekanem registered the final win for the Crimson through a Lehigh forfeit at the 184 lbs. position.
In the 157 lbs. weight class, Grimaldi was defeated by Mike Stepien, 10-7, in a chase from behind for the entirety of the match.
The remaining Harvard wrestlers—sophomore Nicholas Stager, sophomore Brennan Smith, senior Ian Roy and junior David Ng—all suffered defeats at the hands of their Mountain Hawk opponents.
“Each person had their own downfalls today,” Grimaldi said. “I gave up too many points early on, but other people were going too hard at the very beginning and running out of energy too fast. Each of us knows what we have to work on, and it’s just a matter of applying that for the future.”
For the Crimson, the home loss was a less than ideal end to the dual meet season.
“It was tough,” Preston said. “This was our last home match and we really wanted to get the win, especially after beating Lehigh last year. Being at Lavietes was fun and exciting and good for our program, but I think that up and down the lineup, we all could have done better.”
—Staff writer Jillian Dukes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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