Image via Princeton Wrestling
It wasn't that long ago that you'd consider a top-5 ranking of the Princeton Tigers wrestling squad unrealistic. Today; that's a reality. The Tigers check in at #5 in the newest division one tournament rankings from both Flowrestling and Intermat. But how did they get here? First, let's take a look at the Tiger's rapid climb over the last ten seasons.....
Tiger's EIWA finishes over the last 10 years:
2010: 12th, 24 team points
2011: 11th, 42.5 team points
2012: 11th, 44 team points
2013: 12th, 24.5 team points
2014: 12th, 50.5 team points
2015: 7th, 70 team points
2016: 5th, 71.5 team points
2017: 3rd, 113 team points
2018: 3rd, 93 team points
2019: 3rd, 125 team points
Tiger's NCAA qualifiers over the last 10 years:
Tiger's NCAA finishes over the last 10 years:
2010: 61st, 1 team point
2011: DNP, 0 team points
2012: 45th, 6 team points
2013: DNP, 0 team points
2014: 64th, 0.5 team points
2015: 31st, 9.5 team points
2016: 29th, 12.5 team points
2017: 25th, 15.5 team points
2018: 26th, 17 team points
2019: 15th, 35 team points
*statistics per NCAA, EIWA and Princeton Wrestling
As you can see it's been a rapid improvement for the Tigers, especially in their last four seasons. But how has this been possible? Head coach Chis Ayres seems to be the difference-maker. Coach Ayres is currently in his 14th season at the helm of the program and the transformation under his tutelage is undeniable.
The most easily noticed change that has been made by Coach Ayres is to recruiting at Princeton. Coach Ayres recruitment of both wrestlers and coaching staff over the past 14 seasons has been nothing short of amazing. Associate head coach Sean Gray, a Virginia Tech wrestling stud, was the first of many top-level coaches to be acquired and has given the program the credentials necessary to recruit top athletes. Additional coaching add-ons such as IU standouts Joe Dubuque and Nate Jackson have added even more star power to the coaching roster.
The newfound success of the NJRTC, coached by Reece Humphrey, also seems to coincide with the Tiger's rise. Having resident athletes like Pat Downey, CJ Brucki, Tyler Graff, Bryce Meredith and Nate Jackson signals to top-level recruits that this is a place where you can succeed not only collegiately but on the world stage as well. RTC practices are also a great way to interact with top level high school wrestlers and get them involved with the program early on.
These changes have allowed Ayres to reel in 7 nationally-ranked recruiting classes in the last 10 years. With top-level recruits such as Quincy Monday, Brett Harner, Matt Kolodzik, Pat Glory and Pat Brucki at his disposal, Ayres and the tigers have climbed to national prominence.
All of these changes culminated with Princeton taking the B1G-Ivy rivalry against Rutgers 18-15 this past weekend. Although the Tigers came into the bout the clear favorites, the result snapped a 23 match losing streak to the Scarlet Knights that dated back to 1990. This win allowed Princeton to finish the regular season on a 7-match winning streak that will hopefully translate into confidence at the upcoming EIWA Championship. Unfortunately, during the dual #3 ranked Pat Brucki sustained an injury in a 10-9 loss to Jordan Pagano of Rutgers. One of the looming questions we still have is how serious is the injury Pat Brucki sustained during the Rutgers dual and will he be ready for the NCAA Championship in March?
Regardless of Brucki's status the Tigers will try to win their first EIWA title since 1978 this year and seek to follow that performance up with a top-5 finish at the NCAA tournament.