December 6, 2017

Battling Hard in 25-13 Loss to No. 5 Lehigh, PU Wrestling Comes Up With Inspirational Effort

IRON MIKE: Princeton University wrestler Mike D’Angelo, right, controls Lehigh’s Ian Brown last Friday at 157 pounds. Junior D’Angelo overcame a 6-0 deficit to prevail 17-7 in the match. D’Angelo’s heroics weren’t enough as Princeton fell 25-13 to fifth-ranked Lehigh. Princeton faces No. 10 Virginia Tech on December 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Princeton University wrestling team fell 25-13 to fifth-ranked Lehigh last Friday in its first dual match of the season, Chris Ayres won’t soon forget what he saw on the mat from his athletes.

“I told the guys that there were two matches in that dual that were some of the most inspired I have seen in the wrestlers I have coached,” said Ayres.

The 17-7 win by junior Mike D’Angelo over Ian Brown at 157 pounds and freshman Patrick Brucki’s 8-7 victory over Chris Weiler at 197 were the matches that stood out for Ayres.

“Mike D’Angelo had an amazing performance; he was down by six points and that guy had just beaten an All American the week prior,” said Ayres.

“He reels off 17 unanswered points to get a major decision on a really tough kid. That was incredible. Patrick Brucki as a freshman has so much composure. He didn’t wrestle a great match but he showed a lot of heart and found a way to win in the last second. He literally scored a takedown with 10 seconds left in the match.”

Princeton’s two acclaimed stars, senior Jonathan Schleifer and sophomore Matthew Kolodzik, also came up with wins against the Mountain Hawks as Schleifer defeated Gordon Wolf 19-12 at 165 and Kolodzik edged Cortland Schuyler 4-2 at 149.

“Jon wrestled an amazing kid, that kid is nationally-ranked as well and he was handling him,” said Ayres.

“He had the tech fall that the ref didn’t call for him and the match got away from him but he had enough points where he held on. It was really good wrestling up to that point. With Matthew, we don’t talk so much about winning, we talk about performances. Good for him that he got the win but I don’t think it was a very good performance. He has been wrestling exceptionally well in the room. He tightened up a little bit out there. If he wants to be a national champion, he needs to open up some more.”

Noting that the program lost three senior stars, Brett Harner, Jordan Laster, and Ray O’Donnell, from last year’s squad to graduation, Ayres is enjoying working with his younger group.

“We are young. We have one senior, Jon, who is starting right now,” said Ayres. “We have quite a bit of youth. Our identity is still shaping. I love this team and the direction we are moving in.”

Ayres loves the leadership that D’Angelo has been displaying this season.

“D’Angelo is showing the team how to compete. He is doing exactly what we preach when he is wrestling,” said Ayres.

“Hopefully that rubs off on the team a little bit. I instantly made him a captain after his match. He has competed well all year. He has losses but he wrestled the way we preach. It made total sense to say you are the competitive leader of this group so we may as well make you captain.”

The Tigers face some stern competitive challenges in upcoming action as they wrestle No. 10 Virginia Tech on December 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City before going against second-ranked Ohio State on December 15 in Newark, Del.

“I think we match up well against them” asserted Ayres, referring to Virginia Tech.

“The way I look at the lineups and how they shake down, it is not out of the realm of possibility for us to take the win. The next weekend we have Ohio State, they just won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Some ranking services have them ranked No. 1; they are a phenomenal team.”

While the Tigers may take some lumps against such premier competition, Ayres is confident that the experience will pay dividends later in the season.

“This is how we schedule, we wrestle really tough teams early to get a sense of where we stand,” said Ayres.

“It really helps us in two ways — it helps us get through the Ivy league portion of the season, we know exactly where we stand with the best guys and make adjustments. It also helps us for the postseason and the NCAAs. We step on the line against a guy from Ohio State, Virginia Tech, or any Big 10 school, we feel like we have seen it before. I could go up and down the lineup, we expect to be a completely different team in about a month and a half. This team is totally evolving in the right way.”