February 12, 2020

Snapping Cornell’s 92-Match Ivy Winning Streak, PU Wrestling Earns 1st League Crown Since 1986

CROWNING GLORY: Princeton University wrestler Travis Stefanik celebrates after he topped Cornell’s Jonathan Loew 10-4 to clinch victory in a 19-13 triumph by Princeton over the Big Red last Sunday at Jadwin Gym. In beating the Big Red, the Tigers handed Cornell its first Ivy League defeat since 2002 to snap its 92-match league winning streak and earn Princeton’s first Ivy crown since 1986 and the school’s 500th league title overall. Princeton, now 6-4 overall and 4-0 Ivy, hosts Penn and Drexel on February 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Chris Ayres was a man in demand in the wake of coaching the Princeton University wrestling team to a dramatic 19-13 win over Cornell last Sunday,  producing one of the greatest moments in program history.

With the Tigers having handed the Big Red their first Ivy League defeat since 2002 to snap a 92-match league winning streak and earn Princeton’s first Ivy crown since 1986 and the school’s 500th league title overall, hundreds of people reached out to congratulate Ayres.

“It was a little overwhelming, I think it was 394 text messages,” said Ayres, whose team improved to 6-4 overall and 4-0 Ivy in posting its first win over the Big Red since 1986.

The victory marked the culmination of a quest for Ayres, whose Tiger program went 0-37 from 2006-08 in his first two seasons at the helm and had suffered 17 straight losses to powerhouse Cornell.

“In the early years, it would be like four people at a dual meet when we didn’t win,” said Ayres. “Now to have this experience, it is just such a remarkable thing.”

Experiencing a tough 34-7 loss to the Big Red last season helped lay the groundwork for Sunday’s triumph.

“Last year we really felt confident; we felt like we had a team last year that could go up there and beat them and then it was a disaster,” said Ayres.

“It was probably one of the worst competitive things in my career. This year, we were a little cautious. Everyone knew what was on the line and everyone knew where we stood. I didn’t need to say anything for these guys to be motivated. It was a little bit of hey, let’s just be ourselves, let’s do what we are capable of and we will win.”

Ayres, though, still harbored doubts as he had a sleepless night before the clash.

“I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, you are thinking about these big events and matches,” said Ayres.

“You want the best, you know you can do it but there is always that piece there that you might not and you might have to wait another year.  That is what Pat Glory said the night before the match, I have been waiting 365 days for this match. That hurt really bad last year to walk out of that gym, losing the way we did.”

With Matthew Kolodzik walking back into the lineup at 149 pounds, cutting short a planned year off from school to train for the Olympics in the wake of an injury to Mike D’Angelo, Princeton added a very good piece.

“Kolodzik gives us a boost coming back in the lineup; it’s unfortunate because Mike D’Angelo is going to be out,” said Ayres. “We lost him but we gained Matt back. It wasn’t just for this match, it was because he can win a national championship.”

The electric atmosphere at Jadwin Gym gave the Tigers a boost as they battled Cornell.

“We say we have an ecosystem and that was coming out on Sunday,” said Ayres.

“We have a youth program and they showed up. There was alumni there, there was guys there I coached. What we have right now is something special, to pack Jadwin like we did for that dual match.”

The crowd of 1,049 was getting a little nervous as Princeton trailed 10-7 heading into intermission with five matches remaining.

“That is the exact spot I didn’t want us to be in but what I knew was that after halftime, we were in the meat of our lineup,” said Ayres, who got wins from Pat Glory at 125 and Kolodzik at 149 in the first half of the dual.

“We had a 10-minute halftime break and we went to the back. I said this is where we shine. They had their moment. If we do what we are supposed to do on this back side, we are going to be fine and that is what happened.”

After getting wins from Quincy Monday at 157, Grant Cuomo at 165, and Kevin Parker at 174, sophomore Travis Stefanik had the chance to clinch the dual meet at 184 and he came through, shooting a late cradle in pulling out a 10-4 win over Jonathan Loew.

“We were in this situation where I am watching and it is oh boy, both of these guys are feeling the situation right now,” recalled Ayres.

“What I love is that was a statement for our program, he went for it. He could have just tried to get two and scrap it out. He saw the cradle, he took it and said I am going for this; what we preach in our program is being exciting. He did it so beautifully, that was a great way to win that dual meet.”

Stefanik’s victory triggered a raucous celebration on the side of the mat as teammates, coaches, alums, and fans shouted with glee and jumped for joy.

“I don’t know, I lost my mind,” said Ayres with a laugh in reflecting on his reaction at that moment of triumph.

“The cool thing is that I saw Travis and we hugged and he was like this is for you. It was one of those moments.”

Holding the Ivy League trophy minutes later was another special moment for Ayres.

“It is heavy, I didn’t know it was so heavy,” said Ayres. “Funny thing, I was holding it and I was taking pictures and  I said to my AD Mollie [Marcoux Samaan], I never had this, what do I do with it so I took it over to her. It was pretty cool to hold that.”

With the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) championships and the NCAA tournament coming up in March, Ayres believes Princeton can add some more hardware to its trophy case

“This changes the program for us, losing to them all of those times and them starting where they started on Sunday, you get used to a certain way of things happening,” said Ayres, whose team hosts hosts Penn and Drexel on February 15 to continue regular season action.

“The cool thing is that we really haven’t taken any steps back as a program. When we do something, generally the next time we tend to do better. This was a good hump to get over in terms of we got that monkey off our back. We are in line, we could be EIWA champions. I think that our team has the ability to place top four in the country. If we do as well as we could do, we could get a trophy at the NCAAs.”