Harvard wrestling debuted its 2016-2017 squad this Sunday, kicking off individual competition season with the Jonathan Calhoust Bearcat Open. Four Crimson athletes wrestled into the semifinal round, with junior Josef Johnson making an appearance in the final.
“That was our first time out this year,” Harvard coach Jay Weiss said. “So I take this as almost a practice, something we’re going to get better from. I’m happy with some, I’m disappointed with others. But, it’s early and this is what we’ve got to do to go back and get better.”
For three of the Crimson’s top performers, the season opener was also their career opener. The freshman trio of Kyle Bierdumpfel, Hunter Ladnier, and A.J. Jaffe all finished the day with a top-ten finish.
“We haven’t had a group of freshmen like this in a long time,” Weiss said. “They all had a great tournament this weekend.”
Bierdumpfel, Ladnier, and Jaffe each recorded decisive victories over their opponents at the Open. At 165, Bierdumpfel fought his way back through consolation rounds to finish the day in sixth place. Meanwhile, Ladnier and Jaffe, at 149 and 141, each picked up five wins, claiming the fifth place spot in their weight classes.
“Hunter, Alex and Kyle were absolutely relentless,” said junior co-captain Josef Johnson. “From the day these freshmen arrived on campus, they have worked so hard for the program, and I really think that was reflected in most of their matches today.”
Senior Nick Gajdzik also put up a strong performance for the Crimson. The heavyweight notched two dramatic victories, outmaneuvering his first opponent to earn a major decision and winning by fall in his second contest. Gajdzik kept this momentum in his final match, pinning his opponent to clinch fifth place.
“I think that compared to last year, Nick opened up a lot more and was more willing to be aggressive on the mat,” Johnson said. “He was constantly looking to score.”
Johnson was the Crimson’s top finisher of the day, wrestling in the championship match in the 174 weight class. The junior recorded two takedowns and a pin en route to the final, and ultimately was outmaneuvered in his final bout of the day against Penn State’s Mark Hall.
“I thought it was really good for him to get in the finals,” Weiss said. “He wrestled a junior world champion, this guy is one of the top in the country in his class. It was a close match, down to two periods, and it got a little out of hand in the third. But I think that’s going to help him understand what he needs to do going forward.”
While the team was plagued by injuries last year in the lightweight divisions, this year set a different tone for the position. Sophomore Matthew Rodriguez and Ryan Friedman each notched wins for the Crimson, although they did not place in the top ten.
“For both of them, it was their first college tournament,” Weiss said. “They’re fighting, and they’re doing well. I’m very pleased with both of them.”