Although Winter Season Cut Short Due to COVID-19, PU Sophomore Star Wrestler Monday Made Progress
STORMY MONDAY: Princeton University wrestler Quincy Monday, top, controls a foe during a match this winter. Although the 2019-20 season ended prematurely in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, sophomore Monday made a lot of progress, going 23-4 at 157 pounds and getting seeded fifth for the NCAA Championships. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
One day at practice this season, Princeton University wrestling head coach Chris Ayres mused out loud in amazement to his team, rattling off the opponent rankings faced by one of his charges.
The wrestler in question, Quincy Monday, battled a gauntlet of foes ranked at No. 7, No. 4, No. 6, No. 10, No. 9, and No. 20.
Undeterred by that challenge, Monday beat them all during a sophomore year that thrust him into the top five nationally for most of the year and helped push the Tigers team to new heights. He helped Princeton dethrone Cornell for the Ivy League crown to earn the program’s first league title since 1986 and put himself squarely in the picture for a national title at 157 pounds.
“It felt like we were setting new records every week we competed,” said Monday. “It was really exciting to be a part of something like that. It felt like we had momentum building up every week. We were always making headlines. It was fun to be a part of.”
Monday enjoyed a great debut season last winter that saw him earn first-team All-Ivy League as the only Princeton wrestler to go unbeaten in the conference, finish third in the EIWA, and qualify for the NCAA Championships.
This year, he took another step forward while again being first-team All-Ivy, moving up to second in the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association), and qualifying for the NCAA Championships where he was seeded fifth at 157 pounds before the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I thought last year was really good for me because I came close to beating some good guys, but I never got those signature wins,” said Monday.
“For me to get those wins back to back to back this year, it really built my confidence up. It was a consistent thing and I came to expect it of myself. I had faith in my talent and my coaches.”
As a sophomore, Monday finished with a 23-4 record and his development on the mat helped him wrestle better after going 24-13 as a freshman.
In reflecting on his progress, Monday acknowledged that taking some lumps as a freshman helped him produce this year’s success.
“Having that year of experience under my belt helped,” said Monday. “I gained some confidence. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect, and I saw all these guys are D-I and they know what they’re doing. I didn’t know if I could hang with everybody. After going through that year, I gained a lot of confidence like a lot of our sophomores did. We were able to go out and wrestle not scared and wrestle to score points, not just hang on to close matches.”
Princeton was pleased with the growth it saw in Monday; he is one of their young wrestlers that made a good jump from last year to this season.
“Last year, he let some things get to him that were out of his control,” Ayres said. “I think they really affected his wrestling. He was sick right before NCAAs. I think he was OK at NCAAs, but it really messed with him a little bit. We identified that and we talked about that after the fact. And there were a couple injuries where I thought maybe we could push through and he was having a little trouble. I think he was thinking those limitations were going to lead to defeat, when in wrestling especially in D-I, you’re always going to have problems. This year, he had a lot more fight. Last year, he was real technical and slick. Maybe he was missing a little edginess.”
Simply put, Monday had more fight in him this year. It started with a loss at the prestigious Midlands tournament in late December before he fought back through the consolation bracket to place third. He built on that change in approach over the remainder of the season.
“It’s not all just about technique,” said Monday. “I didn’t really realize that last year. I had good technique, I wasn’t a bad wrestler. I had good moves, but they recognized I was dancing around a little too much. I would have the technique, but sometimes technique isn’t enough and you have to make it a fight. Just having those second and third efforts when the first or second move doesn’t work, being able to stay in the fight, paid off for me, not letting him sit there and wait on me to do something. Giving the other guy a lot of pressure and making it a fight, that was a big difference for me.”
It wasn’t just the Princeton coaches that saw it. His father, Kenny Monday, a three-time Olympian wrestler and 1988 gold medalist, saw it too and offered the same support.
“Having a dad like that, he has so much knowledge to pass down,” said the younger Monday. “He knows a lot about wrestling and that comes with knowing a lot about other wrestlers too. That’s provided me with a lot of opportunities to meet other top wrestlers and learn from them and to go camps. I’m really grateful for that. He really provide me a good base to go forward and be a good wrestler and not just being a good wrestler, but being a good man and doing what’s right.”
Making a name for himself this winter with his success, Monday became one of Princeton’s most reliable wrestlers this year against an imposing lineup.
“He wrestled about nine guys in the top 20,” said Ayres. “It works. We had three All-Americans last year. The whole reason we do it is we want them to be prepared when they put their foot on the line at NCAAs. They have to know what it looks like to wrestle a Big-12 or Big-10 team that’s really good.”
Princeton beefed up its schedule this season, taking on eight teams that held Top-25 rankings during the year and finished 9-4 overall.
“It can be a grind at some points, but I think it really prepares us for postseason,” said Monday. “Even though we didn’t get to compete this year (at NCAAs), I got looks from some of the best guys in the country so there’s nothing I’d be surprised by or wouldn’t expect in the postseason. If we didn’t get that tough competition, we might get caught off guard by something. The national tournament is tough so having a lot of those tough matches really pays off in the end.”
The Tigers qualified six wrestlers for the NCAA Championships. Sophomore Patrick Glory was seeded second at 125 pounds, senior Matthew Kolodzik was seeded sixth at 149 points and was bidding to become Princeton’s first four-time All-American. Junior Patrick Brucki was seeded eighth at 197 pounds. Sophomore Grant Cuomo was seeded 24th at 165 pounds, and classmate Travis Stefanik was seeded 29th at 184 pounds.
“In the dual meets, we were ranked in the top 10 sometimes,” said Ayres. “If we placed out where we were seeded, we would have placed somewhere around eighth at the NCAAs. So we had a top-10 team. I thought we could have gotten a trophy at NCAAs. We were better built for NCAAs than EIWAs. What was really powerful was when we all got together for the last time when we found out the NCAAs were canceled, the guys all reflected on the cool things we did this year. This year was a great year. It was hard. We had a really, really tough schedule. It was fun too. This group of kids is special.”
With the core of this year’s squad expected to return next year, the Tigers are hoping that this year’s success becomes the new norm.
“Even though we didn’t get a chance to win the team trophy this year at nationals, we definitely have a chance to do that going forward,” said Monday. “Our team is only getting better from this point on. It’s exciting to be a part of a program where you can really see the progression in the last few years.”
In recent years, Princeton has been making an impact on the national scene as a boost in recruiting classes and success in developing better wrestlers has raised the standard for the program and helped motivate each Tiger wrestler.
“We’re not wrestling for ourselves, we’re wrestling for every person on our team, all the brothers we have next to us,” said Monday. “I had the opportunity to go out and represent our team and help us win these big matches. It was really exciting more than anything. I don’t think any of us thought of it as pressure or anything to be scared of, but I think we all saw each of our matches as a chance to rise to the next level and elevate our team.”
In the view of Ayres, Monday has the opportunity to achieve even more when he returns for his junior campaign. “I think he has another level of separation in him,” said Ayres. “I think he can be one of those guys that you look at and think, there’s no way that guy’s going to lose. It’s all mental. As good as he is, I still think there’s room to improve.”