After dropping the first match of their Ivy League campaign to No. 5 Cornell, the Harvard wrestling team made a resounding statement on Friday night in its 20-18 defeat of Princeton for the first time in a decade. The dynamic of the sport has allowed for many individual successes over the course of the season but wins like this are a special reflection of team culture and commitment.
The effort that went into this weekend began back in September and lasted throughout the fall. The Crimson consists of a young, talented group, made up of sixteen underclassmen. On Friday night, three underclassmen in the lineup – first-years Joseph Cangro, Jack Crook, and sophomore Diego Sotelo – all had key victories over the Tigers.
Longtime head coach Jay Weiss credits hard work in the off-season to this season's successes.
“I felt that they were going to be a lot different in the second semester, and they are – they're wrestling a lot better,” Weiss reflected. “A good two, three months of training and repeating, and then all of a sudden, January, February rolls around and they’re ready to go. So I was pretty pleased.”
The Crimson won six of the ten matches against the Tigers, securing victories at the 125, 141, 149, 157, 174, and 285-pound weight classes. Cangro won by major decision in his home state of N.J. at 141 lbs, as well as senior Trevor Tarsi at 157 lbs.
Sotelo (11-5), who is ranked 22nd in the nation at 125 lbs, remained unbeaten in Ivy League matches, blanking Princeton’s junior Nick Kayal 6-0. The Plainfield, Ill. native, who was injured last season, has been eager to make his mark and step up for the Harvard wrestling program.
“Being able to come back with more drive on my part and being able to be in a room every day with my teammates and my coaches has been great,” said Sotelo when asked about his successes thus far and looking forward. “I feel we've been making big jumps as a team – I'm really excited to make a big statement for myself and for the team.”
Philip Conigliaro, who is ranked No. 21 at 174 lbs, returned to Harvard’s mat for the first time in 2023 after a knee injury kept him from competition, earning his first dual win in the process. Last season, the Dedham, Mass. local won the EIWA title and First Team All-Ivy Honors, securing himself a spot at the NCAA Championships, where he ultimately fell to national runner-up Shane Griffith of Stanford, posting a 3-2 mark. Prior to the NCAA tournament, the captain held an impressive 11-1 record in his matches for the season.
“[Conigliaro] busted his tail off to get back in and he's got another month, you know, to get ready,” said the head coach in reference to the upcoming NCAA tournament in March.
Weiss added, “He's one of the best, he really is. He definitely wasn't 100% this past weekend, but he will be – he will be for sure.”
Following Conigliaro’s victory at 174 lbs, the Crimson dropped two matches, leaving the dual in the hands of Harvard’s heavyweight senior Yaraslau Slavikouski at 285 lbs. Ranked at No. 9, Slavikouski had already made an impressive campaign this season, posting a 20-3 record and placing third at the Cliff Keen Classic back in December.
“At the end of the day, it is just another duel, just another competition for the team,” affirmed the senior captain, who hails from Belarus. “I think the mentality and the mindset, we always remain the same. We go out there to compete, to fight and win.”
His mentality certainly came through in a solid 4-1 victory over the Tiger’s senior wrestler Travis Stefanik. This victory marked Harvard wrestling’s first victory over Princeton in ten years. The former Ivy League and EIWA Rookie of the Year is locked in on bigger competition in March after missing the past two championship seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic and injury.
When asked about his injury, Slavikouski said, “It provided me with the insights and gave me an appreciation of the time I have here – it just makes it that much better. Just getting the opportunity to step on the mat and compete for Harvard, represent the school, the team, and the coaches.”
After a loss to No. 25 Penn last Sunday, the Crimson moved to a 1-4 record for the season so far. Despite the previous losses, Coach Weiss is proud of his team and feels they are being prepared for the postseason.
“I personally like to put them in situations where it's going to be tough. I like tough competition because I think you're either going to rise to the occasion or not,” said Weiss, who will enter his 30th season as head coach for the wrestling program next year, which he has played a colossal role in reshaping over the years. “We wrestle that top competition that gets us ready early in the year because that's what we're gonna see at the end of the year.”
The Crimson will not wrestle this weekend but will return to the Malkin Athletic Center for two matches next weekend against Columbia and Hofstra as it looks to improve its record and sharpen its skills for the EIWA tournament in March.
–Staff writer Sydney E. Farnham can be reached at email@example.com.