The 2018-2019 Princeton University wrestling season is the most anticipated for the program in recent memory, and if the Tigers reach their goals of being a perennial Top-10 team nationally this might be the year that goes down as the unofficial start of a special climb.
Backed by a stellar freshman class headlined by two-time NJ.com Wrestler of the Year and state champion Pat Glory, Princeton starts this year nationally ranked by several publications despite a 4-9 dual meet season against a challenging schedule a year ago.
Princeton is ranked No. 15 by FloWrestling and Intermat, No. 17 by WIN Magazine and No. 18 (tournament) by Openmat.
The Tigers finished the year with a. third-place finish in the EIWAs and saw sophomore Matt Kolodzik finish third in the country at 149 pounds. Kolodzik returns this year and is ranked No. 1 in the country by the four major ranking sites.
“I think we have a young team,” said Princeton coach Chris Ayres. “We have the 8th-ranked recruiting class in the country. Surprisingly you never know what that means until you see what they actually do on this level, but I’ve been impressed with this group.
“We’re going to have about 3-4 freshmen starting. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We’re going to have some impact guys right away. Pat Glory at 125 was the highest ranked coming in. He’s been really impressive and exceeded our expectations.”
In addition to Glory at 125, Ayres said Marshall Keller (141) and Travis Stefanik (174) are likely starters and a fourth could be at 157.
Glory was the No. 1-ranked 126-pounder in the country a year ago when he capped his stellar four-year career at Delbarton. He then scored a dominating 16-3 win over Penn State commit Gavin Teasdale at the Beat the Streets event in Brooklyn last year.
Ayres referred to Glory as a wolf in sheep’s clothing this past March and said his top recruit is living up to the billing.
“Pat looks unassuming, but he is tough in all positions, he’s so good on top,” said Ayres. “Coming into college, a lot of kids have trouble on top and bottom, so he’s at such an advantage. Everyone should be on watch because he’s special.”
Glory is more than ready for the next chapter in his wrestling career. His goal is to be a national champion – not just down the road, but this year.
He says it’s a goal that is shared by everyone in the Princeton program.
“Every single kid on this team is training to be a national champion,” said Glory. “The coaches said the moment I stepped in the room your goal is to win a national title. Don’t let anybody tell you any different. You see guys coming in doing extra lifts, doing the little things big-time Big Ten schools are doing.
“(Seeing Kolodzik) receive a No. 1 ranking makes everything real right now. I can do this. It’s not that far-fetched. If Kolodzik can do it, why not me? I watch his technique, how much lifting he’s doing. He’s a person to see and relate himself to. He’s at the top of the next level and it’s great following his example.”
Kolodzik, a two-time All-American, said the program goals and work ethic have never been higher.
“Over the past couple years we’ve been on a steady climb upwards,” said Kolodzik. “You can feel the electricity in the room. We have a whole bunch of guys ready to make big things happen, and it’s been that way since the first practice.”
Glory said when he looked at colleges he wanted the best combination of wrestling and academics as possible. He found it at Princeton, where one of his training partners and the likely starter at 133 pounds is another former Delbarton state champion in Ty Agaisse.
Glory’s commitment set the wheels in motion for a 2018-2019 freshman class that could thrust Princeton into the national spotlight for years to come.
“I’ve always considered myself a leader and a role model, a guy people can follow,” said Glory. “The coaches have talked about this year and years past. The class of 2022 is just phenomenal. There’s so much depth, eight freshmen. … It feels like a Top-10 room. To be able to help Princeton take these high steps, I’m blessed to be where I am.”
Ayres said the goals for this season should be to win an EIWA title, place in the top 10 nationally and come home from the NCAA Championships with a national champion and multiple All-Americans. It appears those lofty hopes will be an annual occurrence.
“Up until about five years ago, I was selling a vision,” said Ayres, who is entering his 13th year at Princeton. “It took some leaps of faith to commit to us. Matthew Kolodzik was really the first Top-10 recruit we had and he transitioned well. And now you have Pat, who was No. 1, looks at that and says I can do that there, and it snowballs.
“Now the evidence is there, it makes sense that we will be a Top-10 program that produces national champions and All-Americans. This is shaping up to be the best Princeton wrestling team we’ve had.”
Blll Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a note in the comments below. Follow him on Twitter @BEvansSports. Find and like the NJ.com High School Wrestling page on Facebook.