While PU Wrestling Falls 17-16 to Rutgers on Tiebreaker, Coles Provides Highlight with Breakout Win at 141 Pounds
BURNING COLES: Princeton University wrestler Danny Coles, right, controls a foe in a match last season. This past Sunday, sophomore Coles edged No. 8 Sammy Alvarez 4-3 at 141 pounds as Princeton battled Rutgers. The teams were tied 16-16 after the 10 bouts with each winning five and none of the matches being decided by falls, forfeits, defaults or disqualifications. That sent the match to the third criteria, total points scored, and Rutgers had a 42-39 edge to win 17-16 on the criteria point. Coles was later named the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Wrestler of the Week, standing out as the only unranked wrestler to top a ranked foe in the matchup. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Chris Ayres has different parts to his job as head coach of the Princeton University wrestling team, but one thing stands out for him.
It’s the chance to help a wrestler develop to reach another level.
“It’s every day what I live for,” said Ayres. “I do a lot of stuff in my job — like fundraising and recruiting — but my favorite thing is trying to push those buttons to figure out how a guy makes a breakthrough. I think it’s all of our coaches’ favorite thing. Our guys were all the best kids in high school, and it’s trying to figure out how to unlock them and make them be the best they can be in college. And it’s not like a linear gradual gain, it’s a big jump. You have a mental shift where you’re like here’s where I am.”
The Tigers staff saw one such jump Sunday. Despite a loss to InterMat No. 17 Rutgers on tie-breaking criteria points after Princeton tied them with five match wins apiece, the Tigers had something to build on with a win at 141 pounds from Danny Coles [The teams were tied 16-16 after the 10 bouts with none of the matches being decided by falls, forfeits, defaults, or disqualifications. That sent the match to the third criteria, total points scored, and Rutgers had a 42-39 edge to win 17-16 on the criteria point.] Princeton’s InterMat-ranked trio of Patrick Glory, Quincy Monday, and Luke Stout all won as expected along with Blaine Bergey at 165 pounds, but Coles had the most significant win of the day.
The teams were tied 16-16 after the 10 bouts with each winning five and none of the matches being decided by falls, forfeits, defaults, or disqualifications. That sent the match to the third criteria, total points scored, and Rutgers had a 42-39 edge to win 17-16 on the criteria point.
The Canadian native was the only wrestler on either team to upset an InterMat-ranked opponent. Coles scored a first-period takedown and a last-period escape in a 4-3 win over eighth-ranked Sammy Alvarez at 141 pounds.
“That’s what you have to do — you have to get one guy to break through,” said Ayres of Coles, who hails from Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada. “Luke Stout did last year. I think Danny broke through this weekend. They all know how to wrestle. It’s like massaging their minds and getting them to believe that they’re one of the best guys in the country and figuring out how to just do that.”
Coles went 9-8 last year in his first season of college wrestling. He started his sophomore season 0-3, mirroring the start of the Tigers with losses to Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. But Sunday he delivered a huge win that could signal a shift in his season.
“That was a perfect match for him,” said Ayres of Coles, who was later named the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Wrestler of the Week for his performance. “Where he was deficient in the past was he couldn’t put seven minutes together. He didn’t have the focus. In this match, it was perfect. He had seven minutes of focus and he did what he had to do. He could have scored more, I think, actually, and we have to get over that hump so next time he goes out there he scores more points. It’s a big jump for him. Now we have a ’41-pounder. That’s what I talked to the team about. We can’t just count on Pat Glory, and Quincy and Luke Stout. We need other guys to step up. Danny Coles coming through is big for us.”
Ayres has seen it before during his 17 years with Princeton. He points to Monday, currently ranked No. 1 at 157 pounds after making huge strides in a few years to reach the NCAA final last year.
“If you look at Quincy Monday, his freshman year he was just OK honestly,” said Ayres. “Then his sophomore year, it was like this is a different guy. He could beat anyone. Then his junior year, he was like, ‘I’m to win NCAAs.’ So shifts have to happen. We just have to push the buttons to make them happen. When it happens, it’s the coolest thing as a coach. Danny, today could have been one of those days.”
Coles is another wrestler in the Princeton program that Ayres can point to now for taking a step to figure out how to win against a higher level wrestler. The Tigers have been waiting for another breakthrough like they got out of Coles.
“All this stuff is mental,” said Ayres. “You make these jumps — it’s hard to understand. I think from the outside looking in, it’s like a linear thing and they think you just improve a little every day. All it takes is a mind shift. You have to have a mind shift to ‘this what I do, this is how I win’ — and finding that is tough. You have to fail a lot to figure that out. In my own career, I know exact moments where I made a big jump. And I think Danny Coles made a big jump today. We just have to massage that a bit and make sure he keeps that going.”
Ayres was so focused on how his team was wrestling that he didn’t focus on the criteria points that ultimately decided the match. Princeton’s coaches didn’t ask its underdog wrestlers to just keep their matches close, they wanted their wrestlers to compete for wins. The goal for the Tigers was to continue to improve as wrestlers, not scrape for individual points in matches.
“I think we wrestled well,” said Ayres. “I tell them if they wrestle hard and we lose, we lose. I thought that’s what happened today. On a judge’s scorecard, if you would have judged the match, I think we were more aggressive, I think we had more attempts. I felt good about the match honestly, we just didn’t get the result we wanted.”
The team fell to 0-4 with the loss, but even Ayres offered with a chuckle that the Tigers may be the best 0-4 team in the country. Princeton will focus on exams before returning to the mat at the acclaimed Midlands Championships in Illinois from December 29-30. Ayres sees big potential for his team, and plenty of opportunity to prove itself with more challenging teams after Midlands and the Franklin and Marshall Open on January 6.
“It’s not where we want to be 100 percent; this is not where we expected to be,” said Ayres. “But it is what it is and we’re going to get better every weekend. I think we’re going to have a totally different team at Midlands and as we go into a tough schedule. We have Oregon State after Midlands and then we have Arizona State, so it doesn’t get any easier after this match. Rutgers is good, but they’re not Arizona State-good. We have to do some work to figure it out, but we could beat Arizona State. That’s the funny thing about the game. If a few guys figure it out, we could go in there and beat Arizona State in Tempe. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Princeton got a breakthrough performance out of Coles on Sunday. The next step is for him to sustain it in upcoming matches when the Tigers return to action, something that will help Princeton as a team while also boosting him individually for a strong run by season’s end.
“It’s what we do,” said Ayres. “We’ve honestly never been good early on in a season. But we usually end up well. We do very good in relation to our seeds at NCAAs. This is all practice. For him to break through a bit was good.”