Friday, March 6, 2009

The Quiet Foundation

Unless you're on that island in LOST, you can't just experience a flash of light and be whisked into the future. (OK, apparently you can only get whisked into the past on LOST ... TigerBlog admits to spending one confused hour per week trying to figure it out).

Anyway, if head wrestling coach Chris Ayres could get that opportunity, he believes that he'd see a far more formidable Tiger squad on the horizon. After two winless seasons to start his first head coaching tenure, Ayres has guided Princeton to a pair of wins this season, despite forfeiting two weight classes most of the time.

While two wins won't turn many heads, a closer look at the program does reveal hope. Of the eight wrestlers who will compete for Princeton in this weekend's EIWA championships at The Palestra, four are freshmen. One of those freshmen, Kurt Brendel, could earn an eighth-seed after an impressive first year. Another freshman, Daniel Kolodzik, spent about two months, ranging from preseason through mid-December, trying to compete at a weight that really didn't work for him. Since moving to 149, he has begun to show the promise that Ayres believes could make him a potential NCAA qualifier in years to come.

This wouldn't be the first year that Princeton has had multiple freshmen experience success. Last season, 174-pounder Travis Erdman became the first All-Ivy honoree at Princeton since 2005, and 125-pounder Tony Comunale was possibly one turned ankle away from earning an NCAA appearance in his first year. Comunale missed all of this season with injury, so he still has three more years to help rebuild this program.

You can't see the structure of the upcoming wrestling teams yet. With another solid class coming in and the much-needed combination of determination and optimism, Ayres can only imagine what it might look like in 2011 or 2012.

But he can see the foundation. His name is Marty Everin.

Whatever becomes of this program during Ayres' tenure, Everin's contributions must never be overlooked or forgotten. He came to Princeton from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School with a career record of 149-31. He was once one of the bright freshmen, but he sufferered through some dark times: A coaching change. Winless seasons. Injury upon injury. Attrition.

The attrition has occurred gradually and consistently over the last three years, and is why this team started most of its dual matches in an immediate 12-0 hole. Because Princeton couldn't field wrestlers at the 133- and 141-pound weight classes, there was little to no hope that the Tigers could really contend against some of the big boys in the EIWA.

Everin knew that. He knew this team was at the beginning of a rebuilding process when Ayres came prior to the 2006-07 season, but he prepared himself for the best possible season and was elected team captain. He knew it before last season, when an offseason knee injury cost him the year. He could have stayed in school, earned his degree and been finished with the collegiate wrestler's lifestyle (which does not end when practice concludes, because of the consistent weight requirements). Instead, he withdrew and rehabbed so he could give it one final go.

His final go came this season, when he was named captain once again.

"He is the most changed wrestler, for the better, that I've ever worked with in my life," Ayres says. "That includes my time at Lehigh. He listened to us, and then he walked the walk. Sometimes we have to tell guys 100 times before they really hear it. With Marty, we told him once what it would take. He did the rest."

That walk led to a 16-win season and a potential sixth seed at this weekend's EIWA championships. Again, that may not move mountains at schools like Cornell and Lehigh, but it matters here. He was already a leader off the mat and in practice, but now he was showing the talented youth in the locker room that the hard work and dedication Ayres preaches leads to the one thing they all want.


Everin wrestles in a weight class with both the defending NCAA champion, Cornell's Jordan Leen, and a potential NCAA champion in Harvard's J.P. O'Connor. The odds of Everin becoming Princeton's first EIWA champion since Greg Parker '03 are significant. But he could have a run in him, and an upset or two could land him in the NCAA Championships, which would be a Princeton first under Ayres.

Regardless of Everin's outcome this weekend, his greatest contribution to the program has already been planted. If this program continues an upward march over the next three years, names like Brendel, Comunale, Kolodzik and Erdman will be the familiar ones.

And within all of them, the example of Marty Everin will be the guiding force.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks for giving the wrestlers a nice send off.

formercollegewrestler said...

Frustrating! How can a coach build a program with very limited pull/recruitment of wrestlers. My son would love to wrestle for Princeton. He is a strong wrestler, but not one of the coaches 5-6 recruits. He is also an excellent student. Hopefully, he will get in, but who knows. Admissions and administration needs to give a little in order to build a stronger wrestling program.

Anonymous said...

I aggree with formercollegewrestler, Princeton Wrestling needs to develop more depth before it can ever hope to compete with the other schools in the league (and nationally for that matter). A glance at the other successful program's rosters shows that they have at least a couple of guys at each weight class. The cream will rise to the top when you have competition at the various weights. The Princeton roster never seems to get larger then the mid teens and by the time they get to the end of the season tournaments they can only field 7 or 8 healthy bodies. We are not talking about contending for a national championship against the likes Iowa St.etc...but to have enough guys in the program and a few studs a year to be able to compete with the other Ivies. Harvard isn't tearing up the league every year either, but they have three guys who qualified for the Nationals one or two who may contend for the title. That should be Princeton's goal, but they need more help from Admissions. There are enough solid wrestlers (and strong students) who do not need admissions "help" that will add to the depth issue. Then admissions has to give Coach Ayres 2 or 3 "studs" each year that do need some help. I am sure that there are more than 2 or 3 athletes on other teams (, hockey?)that the admissions office is helping to get in. Cornell, Harvard, and Penn all have wrestlers that have succeeded on the national scene....why not Princeton?