D’Angelo Looking to Make Most of Senior Year As PU Wrestling Continues Rise to Prominence
RISING FORCE: Princeton University wrestler Mike D’Angelo, bottom, battles a foe from Lehigh in a match earlier this season. Last Sunday, 14th-ranked D’Angelo dropped a 3-2 decision overtime to No. 3 Pat Lugo at 149 pounds as No. 12 Princeton fell 30-9 to top-ranked Iowa before a throng of 2,284 at Jadwin Gym. The Tigers, now 1-2, host No. 20 Rider on December 19 at Dillon Gym. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Mike D’Angelo had never seen a crowd at Jadwin Gym like the one that showed up to see the 12th-ranked Princeton University wrestling team take on No. 1 Iowa last Sunday.
“It was awesome,” said the Tiger senior captain D’Angelo, a native of Commack, N.Y.
“When I started, all of our matches were at Dillon Gym. That’s one thing that was different. (Sunday) was the most packed I’d ever seen Jadwin. They actually had people in the upper decks and we also had the bleachers on both sides. That was by far the most fans that I’ve seen. We also had more students. It was just a great environment. I love competing in environments where there’s a lot of people. It inspires me to really go out there and wrestle my best and try to put on a show.”
While D’Angelo and the Tigers came up short against the top-ranked Hawkeyes, they put on a good show for the throng of 2,284 at Jadwin. Sophomore Patrick Glory, ranked fourth by Intermat at 125 pounds, won along with ninth-ranked sophomore Quincy Monday at 157 and sophomore Travis Stefanik at 184, but 12th-ranked Princeton fell, 30-9, to unbeaten Iowa. The 14th-ranked D’Angelo dropped a 3-2 decision overtime to No. 3 Pat Lugo at 149 pounds.
“We want these types of matches,” said Princeton head coach Chris Ayres. “We want to pack Jadwin. We want to have the best team in this area. It was a tough weekend, but a good journey for our crew.”
The loss came just two days after Princeton lost 18-15 at No. 9 Oklahoma State. Princeton opened the year against another top-10 team, posting a thrilling 18-14 win over then-No. 7 Lehigh on November 23.
“It’s been pretty tough,” D’Angelo said. “But we just accept it as the new norm. We say we want to be a top 5 team, so that’s our thing – we’ll wrestle anyone, anywhere. We’ve gotten some good opportunities to go up against some top 10 teams.”
D’Angelo was disappointed to drop a pair of heartbreakers over the weekend. He fell, 7-4, against Boo Lewallen, the No. 4 wrestler in his weight class, at Oklahoma State and then had the narrow setback on Sunday.
“I told him that we just have to find one point,” Ayres said. “That weight class is wide open. I have to keep him on track. He can’t get too bent out of shape about this loss.”
Not when D’Angelo’s return to the team has meant so much. He took a year off last year and trained with Reece Humphrey, the head coach of the New Jersey Regional Training Center (NJRTC) in New Brunswick, while juggling some internships.
“It was a big training year,” D’Angelo said. “I got a lot of competition in. I had a couple folkstyle tournaments in the first half of the year and then I switched over to freestyle and competed in the US Open and the Junior World Team Trials. It was good. The reason I took a year off is because wrestling has been such a big part of my life, for as long as I could remember, and I have one more year of NCAA eligibility. I wanted to go all in on it so that way when I’m done with it — hopefully I reach my goals — but there’s no what-ifs, no questions asked, and I’m not leaving anything on the table. I think I got a lot out of it.”
His return to the team has improved the Tigers with Princeton counting on D’Angelo’s leadership and example as it looks to take another step up the ranks.
“He doesn’t say much, but he’s one of those guys that leads by example,” said Ayres.
“He also leads competitively. He was really upset on Sunday. He felt like he let the team down. He believes he’s the ignitor when he’s out there. He thinks he can inspire. He didn’t do that when he had a chance to knock off [Iowa’s Pat] Lugo who might be No. 3. He lost in overtime. He was out there letting it rip. He’s so important to us in terms of how you compete. He may have lost but he leaves everything out there every time and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Ayres has been impressed with D’Angelo’s discipline upon his return as he dropped a weight class in his year off after wrestling three years at 157.
“He’s a tall, tall ’49 pounder,” said Ayres. “The discipline to get that done, I call him ‘the professional.’ He’s never too much overweight. He’s always going to do the right thing. He provides that example of senior leadership that we need. He’s the only senior captain. We have Patrick Brucki who’s a captain and we have Ty Agaisse, both underclassmen. D’Angelo is the guy who’s been around the block. The other thing about Mike is he’s an example of perseverance. He wasn’t the highest ranked guy coming out of high school. He didn’t win states. But he’s been plugging away and doing the right things. He lost in overtime who’s third. He lost a close one to the guy who’s fourth. He’s a top five guy. He could win NCAAs.”
D’Angelo is keeping his focus on a national crown. It’s a motivating goal that’s been fueling his college career. He was excited to rejoin the team this year as a captain to take another shot at it after qualifying for his first NCAA Championships as a junior in 2018.
“It means a lot,” said D’Angelo. “It was obviously tough last year just watching the matches from the side. It feels great to be back out there, to be a part of the team again. It’s something I was looking forward to in the year off. I love my team like brothers. We’re all there for each other. There’s no other group of guys I’d rather go through this journey with. It’s really exciting to see the direction that this program is moving in. From the time that I got here up until now, we’ve kind of been on a roller coaster just moving forward. It’s exciting to see the progress and seeing coach’s vision and the team’s vision come true.”
Facing quality opponents early like the Tigers can only help. Princeton has seen that it can compete with any team, and it is building a winning mindset by taking on bigger challenges.
“I’m super inspired by the younger guys on the team,” D’Angelo said.
“They’ve really been laying it all on the line. I want to get to a point where I’m competing like those guys. I’ve really drawn inspiration from them. From a team standpoint, it shows we’re right in there with the top teams in the country and we can be a top 5 team. This is something coach Ayres said to me when I was a recruit in high school. I was a 17-year-old kid and he gave me his vision for this team and I was inspired and bought into it. Ever since then, I’ve been 100 percent committed to this team. Throughout my time here, I’ve really seen the transition of this program. I’d like to think I played a role in it, which is super important to me. I have a ton of pride in this program and I want to represent it to the best of my ability.”
D’Angelo and the Tigers have another challenge ahead on December 19 when they host 20th-ranked Rider University at Dillon Gym. Beyond that match is the 57th Annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships from December 29-30 at Hoffman Estates, Ill. and another chance to shine on a big stage.
“When I put all that work in, I want to make the most of that seven minutes that I get out on the mat,” D’Angelo said.
“I want to be the match that everyone is looking forward to, everyone’s talking about. It really helps me put that in perspective when I’m training. I know when I go out there, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be a great environment. That really helps.”
Hosting Iowa gave local Princeton fans a chance to see the best of wrestling and that charged atmosphere.
“It was great,” said Ayres. “The place was packed. People like watching Iowa and they like watching us so it was a great environment for our guys. We had some guys step up and we lost some heartbreakers. And where they’re good and we’re not quite ranked, we got beat up a little bit but there’s a lot of good to take away from the match in terms of things we need to work on and where we really stand. We’re one of the best teams in the country and we can compete with anyone. I think that’s what we walk away from the weekend with. Some guys should be moving up in the rankings. All in all, it was a very productive weekend even though we were 0-2.”
Ayres anticipates that the pressure matches early will pay off down the line. He’s trying to do all he can to prepare the Tigers for Ivy and NCAA championship action, and going on the road to Oklahoma State and then returning to face the best team in the country put his wrestlers into a challenging lineup.
“It turns the volume down on the conference tournament and NCAAs,” said Ayres. “To have your own hotel room, not be traveling, you’re still going to face tough guys but under easier conditions.”
Win or lose, Princeton benefits from the experience. After falling to 1-2, those lessons are on the minds of the Tigers as they resume training.
“I wanted it real bad,” said D’Angelo. “It’s a learning experience. There are some things I have to fix technically. I know I’m right there. I know what I need to do. I have faith in my coaches and faith in my teammates that we’re going to move forward with this and get it done when it really matters.”
Princeton will look to get back on the winning track against Rider. It’s the next challenge in a schedule that is stacked with top-20 teams to help prepare the Tigers to achieve their goal of reaching the highest level of college wrestling.
“I took the year off so there’s no questions asked once I’m done with it,” said D’Angelo.
I’m all in on this program and I’m all in on myself. I’ve had goals in the sport. I’ve wanted to be an NCAA champ since I was a little kid. This is my last chance to do it.”