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After months characterized by podium wins, major upsets, and long-awaited results, Harvard wrestling has wrapped up a remarkable 2022-23 season. The season took place across five winter months, opening in November with the Journeymen Collegiate Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., and culminating in mid-March with the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
The Crimson boasted strong team showings across the season’s 14 tournaments, securing an impressive third-overall placing in the Ivy League and qualifying four members of its squad for the NCAA Championships: senior Yaraslau Slavikouski, juniors Philip Conigliaro and Joshua Kim, and sophomore Diego Sotelo.
‘‘I’ve been on the team for a couple of years, including the Covid year, and this year is really special because it seems the team is really starting to take shape in the sense that things are starting to click. We're starting to do really well,” co-captain Conigliaro said.
“We had a difficult year last year because of injuries,” head coach Jay Weiss said. “I felt we had more talent than we’ve had in a long time so I was looking forward to [this year].”
The Journeymen Classic proved to be a promising start, as Harvard clinched six first-place finishes, five second-place finishes, and three third-place finishes. This amounted to a successful fourth-place finish overall in the tournament for the Crimson.
The following weekend, Harvard returned to Pennsylvania to compete at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia. With solid results across the team, the highlight of the tournament saw Kim defeat No. 20 Lucas Revano from the University of Pennsylvania, coming away with a 3-1 victory and bringing home a fourth-place finish in the 165-pound weight bracket.
The Crimson continued this steady momentum through into December. The two-day Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational showcased Harvard heavyweight co-captain Slavikouski’s dominance on the mat, as the Belarus native won six of his seven matches and placed third in the 285-pound weight bracket. The weekend also saw Harvard wrestlers face off against nationally-ranked opponents, and No. 13 Kim took down No. 4 Austin Yant of Northern Iowa in a stunning upset. Harvard finished the tournament ranked 18th out of 33 participating schools.
As December came to a close, Harvard traveled to Evanston, Ill., and emerged with an impressive weekend that saw the Crimson register a score of 55.5 points over the two-day tournament. Sotelo finished third in his 125-pound weight bracket, accumulating a total of 23.0 team points. Slavikouski placed fourth in his respective weight bracket, securing a second consecutive top-five finish and earning 14.5 team points.
The new year offered a challenge for the Crimson. In a dual season opener, Harvard fell to the University of Carolina by a score of 22-12 and dropped their matches the following weekend against Binghamton and Cornell by scores of 19-13 and 27-12, respectively. To close out their Ivy Road Trip, the Crimson fell 28-8 in a matchup against the University of Pennsylvania.
Nonetheless, these tournaments proved to be anomalies in the Crimson’s season results.
In late Jan., Harvard prevailed in a thrilling matchup against Princeton, defeating the Tigers 20-18 in their home at Jadwin Gym. This victory represented Harvard’s first win against their Ivy foe in ten years, as well as their first victory of the dual season. Starting in the 125-pound weight bracket, Sotelo gave the Crimson a 3-0 lead from the get-go. Other Harvard wrestlers that day included first-years Joseph Cangro and Jack Crook, as well as senior Trevor Tarsi, whose respective victories increased the Crimson’s lead. After injury-ridden weeks which saw Conigliaro miss several competitions, the captain returned to action with an 8-4 victory, propelling the Crimson to lead 17-9. While the Tigers pulled back into the lead after matches in the 184- and 197-pound weight brackets, this lead proved insufficient as Slavikouski defeated No. 33 Travis Stefanik 4-1, lifting the Crimson to a stunning 20-18 victory.
Weiss was proud of the team’s ability to come together and secure the long-awaited win. “It felt like guys wrestled hard for the team, they were looking to score points and big wins. It was a good win — Princeton has a strong team,” Weiss said.
For Conigliaro, beating Princeton was critical to showcasing the team’s prowess. “On paper, people outside our program may have thought we weren’t able to do it, but we proved to them that we could,” he remarked.
The Crimson’s return home to Cambridge in Feb. saw the team secure a major win over Columbia in the Malkin Athletic Center in a tight 19-18 matchup. Harvard prevailed in its first five matches, with Conigliaro, Slavikouski, Sotelo, and junior Leo Tarantino’s victories helping carry the Crimson’s lead over the Lions. The critical win of the dual finally came with first-year Dante Frinzi’s victory over Angelo Rini, which delivered a crucial six points to Harvard and secured the team’s narrow win.
A Massachusetts native, Conigliaro has been attending Harvard wrestling matches since he was younger. “I haven’t heard the MAC have that much energy at matches in a long, long time,” he said.
Conigliaro adds that he attributes part of the team's success to the influence of a home crowd. “Having friends and family cheering on definitely helps you in the match and just having everyone and the crowd behind you is very special — that’ll stick with you for a long time and being able to win at home is a very special thing,” he said.
Fresh off its victory over Columbia, Harvard cruised to a 25-11 over Hofstra the following day. The Crimson won seven out of ten matchups, helping deliver their second overall win in under 24 hours. Their victory in three of the past four matches also brought them to .500 in EIWA play.
The Crimson’s winning streak strengthened throughout February, as they secured a resounding 32-10 victory over Brown on Senior Night. The match saw the Crimson win eight of ten matches and attain its season-high score of 32 points.
As March approached, Harvard competed in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships. Strong performances across the team saw the Crimson earn 63 team points and five podium places, bringing the team to an eighth-place finish overall.
The tournament also impressively saw four members of Harvard’s squad qualify for the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Okla. later that month. Sotelo was the first athlete in the tournament to clinch his ticket down south and was shortly followed by Kim, who placed fifth in the 165-pound weight bracket, as well as Conigliaro, who earned his third consecutive NCAA bid. Entering the tournament ranked No. 1 in the 285-pound weight bracket, Slavikouski suffered an upset in the semis but fired back in the next round, closing out the EIWA Championships with a third-place finish and securing his spot in the season’s culminating tournament.
“Watching everyone compete for their hearts out and going to NCAAs with four qualifiers was really special. Especially for me, I was grateful to compete at NCAAs with a couple of my good friends on my team,” said Conigliaro, who was the Crimson’s sole qualifier to the tournament last year. “It was definitely a lot more fun being there with my teammates this year and having a good time together.”
The NCAA Championships stands as the season’s culminating event. “Everything we do is for those three days in March. [The NCAAs] is the crown jewel of our sport,” Weiss said. "It’s really a life-changing moment to get there.”
The four NCAA qualifiers represented Harvard’s largest number of wrestlers to compete in the tournament in over a decade, where the Crimson placed 44th out of 67 participating teams from across the country.
Notably, Harvard’s strong performances throughout the season earned a number of its squad members spots on the All-Ivy League team. Slavikouski, who finished his dual season by going undefeated in EIWA play, was unanimously named to the All-Ivy League First Team in his 285-pound weight bracket. Standout sophomore Sotelo was named to the Second-Team at 125 pounds, followed by senior Trevor Tarsi and Conigliaro, who were honorable mentions at 157- and 174-pound classes respectively. Finally, Kim was also named to the All-Ivy Academic Team for his success both in and out of the classroom this season.
Reflecting on this season, Conigliaro highlights the value of a strong team dynamic. “We hope to continue what we have been doing this year, improving all facets of our game together as a team. It may be an individual sport but we compete as a team, whether it’s at a tournament or a dual.”
“A big thing is to have the older, more experienced guys helping out the younger guys. We have a really great class of incoming freshmen that I look forward to introducing them to college wrestling — I’m sure they’ll make a big impact”, he added.
As a coach, Weiss noted that, “It’s a joy to coach. When you ask what was I most proud or happy about this season, it was just the way this team came together,” he reflected. “This is a close-knit team — I personally need it that way, and that’s how I can operate best. We recruit that way, we look for who’s going to make our family stronger, not just their abilities on the wrestling mat.”
Nonetheless, Weiss recognises points of improvement from this season. “We will reflect on where guys faltered throughout the year, and how we can be better at communicating [and] working differently with people,” he said. “I’m always trying to get better, I’m always trying to get better, get my coaches better, get my captains better.”
While the season may be over, Harvard wrestlers will continue training on the mat. Conigliaro, in reference to a Harvard wrestling alum, notes that “wrestling is an eleven-month sport — the season really never ends, the training really never stops, and we’ll be training throughout the summer as well in preparation for next year.”
Off-season training requires discipline and determination, which Conigliaro prizes about the team.
“It’s great to have so many people who are able to commit to wrestling, not only in-season but also out of season,” he said.
Armed with this season’s successes, Harvard wrestling is already keeping its eye on next year’s prize, and Weiss is hopeful for the team’s ability to improve and succeed. “Our goal is not just to get four guys at nationals. Our goal is ultimately to place guys — that’s something we’ve got to get better at,” he said. “I know there are guys on the team that should be out there next year, and we’ve got to prepare for that from here on out right now.”
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