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Every year, Harvard wrestling must wait six months between the first day of school and the start of postseason competition. Now the Crimson must wait a mere four weeks.
At the start of March, Harvard (2-7, 1-3 Ivy) will travel to Lewisburg, Pa. for the EIWA Championships. Two weeks later, any successful wrestlers will trek to St. Louis, Mo. for the NCAA Championships.
The rest of the year is really a preliminary for these end-of-season competitions. In 2016, then-sophomore Josef Johnson joined then-seniors Devon Gobbo and Todd Preston at the NCAA Championships.
On this year’s team, Johnson has the best shot of booking a ticket to St. Louis. There is still, however, the matter of finishing out the regular season.
“We are such a talented team,” captain Jeffrey Ott said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can send a lot of guys to the NCAA tournament. What we’re trying to improve upon is just the belief in matches against highly ranked guys.”
On Saturday, the Crimson took another step toward that goal—albeit a shaky and largely forgettable step. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the team dropped two matches to Princeton and Penn, with no Harvard contestant going 2-0.
PRINCETON 33, HARVARD 3
When the referee’s whistle pierced the air, the junior Johnson stood up to exult. And for good reason.
Facing Jonathan Schleifer, the No. 17 college wrestler at 174 lbs., Johnson had hung tough early in the match. Then he had seized control for a 3-1 sudden triumph.
“Joe Johnson has been a rock,” Ott said. “He’s putting matches together, match after match. He’s very consistent.”
Any celebration was short-lived, however. Johnson’s upset win provided the only points on an evening when the Tigers (7-6, 3-0) nearly shut out the Crimson. Ultimately, Princeton sent the visitors packing by a score of 33-3.
Not counting Johnson, all but three wrestlers suffered defeats by decision. Freshman Connor Sakmar lost by technical fall, freshman Zeth Dean lost by fall, and sophomore Peter Bears lost by major decision.
Even so, several matches came down to the wire. At 197 lbs., Junior Logan Kirby dropped a 5-4 heartbreaker. Similarly, freshman A.J. Jaffe and senior Nicholas Gajdzik were on the wrong ends of 6-5 and 1-0 squeakers, respectively.
Rounding out the lineup were sophomore Samuel Goldman, freshman Hunter Ladnier, and junior Kanon Dean. Of this trio, Dean lost by the smallest margin—a 3-0 decision.
“Maybe in a couple individual matches this weekend, we were a little out-classed,” Ott said. “But the main thing you judge those matches on is just effort.”
PENN 27, HARVARD 17
The drive from Cambridge to Philadelphia winds past oil refineries, tollbooths, and roadside Subways. The six-hour journey feels like it takes six hours.
This past weekend, though, a glimmer of hope brightened the road. On Jan. 28, Harvard had lost to Cornell, 33-11—an expected result that nonetheless stood out because of three individual victories.
The dual contest at Penn offered a chance to leverage any momentum. Sitting at 1-4 in the EIVA, the Quakers seemed vulnerable for a defeat.
That defeat never came. Harvard took a 6-0 lead after Ladnier pinned his opponent, but five straight wins by Penn (4-6, 1-2) swung the match beyond the Crimson’s control.
Although Goldman claimed a 16-1 win by technical fall and Gajdzik took a 6-1 decision, Harvard never climbed back. Final score: Quakers 27, Crimson 17.
The prolonged losing streak started with the freshman Dean, who lost by fall. Next came Bearse, Johnson, and Dean, who combined for three pints. Kirby, who also lost by fall, rounded out the tough stretch.
Gajdzik, Goldman, and Jaffe—who claimed a 10-3 decision—kept the score close in later matches. But a major-decision lost by Sakmar put the result out of reach.
“We’re looking to improve,” Ott said. “We do a good job keeping things in perspective and knowing that what you judge a successful or an unsuccessful season by is really in the postseason.”
—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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