Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Huge Saturday On The Mat At Dillon Gym

According to the Ivy League website, there have been six instances in Ivy League athletic history when a school has won at least 10 consecutive titles in the same sport.

Of those six, they are split evenly between two schools - three for Princeton and three for Cornell.

Any guesses on what Princeton's three are? Want a hint? Nah.

Of the three for Cornell, two are men's gymnastics, which the Big Red won from 1968-77, and men's lacrosse, from 1974-83.

In case you're wondering, Ivy League men's gymnastics was discontinued after the 1982 season. Women's gymnastics, by the way, lasted until 1990.

TigerBlog will get back to Cornell's other one in a few minutes.

In the meantime, there are Princeton's three.

One is men's lacrosse, which Princeton won from 1995 to 2004. Princeton did not win the Ivy League championship in 1994, losing to Brown during the season, but the Tigers did win the NCAA championship that year, avenging the loss to Brown in the semifinals along the way.

The other two for Princeton are really one, field hockey. Princeton has won 20 of the last 21 Ivy field hockey titles, winning 10 straight from 1995-2004, losing in 2005 and then winning 10 more in a row, a streak that is active.

TigerBlog was at the game that Princeton lost to Penn in 2005. It was the season finale, and it was a three-way race where the winner of the Princeton-Penn game at ’52 would tie Harvard for the title. The Princeton-Penn game was tied, when Penn got a penalty corner as the final seconds ran off.

In field hockey, the offensive team can take its time in that situation, because it gets to play out the corner. If there's another corner called off the first one, that one gets played out too, even though the clock shows all zeroes.

TigerBlog is pretty sure soccer doesn't work that way. That's why you see players sprinting to get corner kicks off in the final seconds of a half.

Anyway, Penn scored off the corner. That's the only time in the last 21 years Princeton has not won.

So where were we? Oh yeah, the other Cornell streak.

That one is actually active. It's the current 13-year run of the Big Red in wrestling.

Since losing to Penn in 2002, Cornell has run the table, not only winning the title each year but also being perfect along the way. Cornell's run has been impressive, as the Big Red have come close to winning the NCAA title as well.

Then there's Princeton.

For years, the Tigers struggled to field a full lineup for wrestling, let alone win team matches. The idea that Princeton would emerge as a legitimate Ivy League contender wasn't something that was really considered.

All of that brings us to this Saturday. Princeton hasn't won an Ivy League wrestling championship since 1986, long before any of the current Tigers were born. 

Princeton hosts Columbia and Cornell Saturday at Dillon Gym. The Columbia match is at 1; Cornell is here at 7. The Big Red begins its day in Philadelphia, wrestling at 1 at Penn.

This is the final weekend for the Ivy race. The standings currently have Penn at 2-1, Columbia at 1-2, Harvard at 1-3 and Brown at 0-4.

And at the top, tied at 3-0? Princeton and Cornell.

TigerBlog has said this before, but the job that the Princeton wrestling coaching staff has done in recent years has been nothing short of incredible. They've engineered one of the great turnarounds TigerBlog has seen in any sport here in all of the time he's been here.

Hey, you can tell it just by walking past the wrestling room on E level of Jadwin on any given afternoon. The intensity and competitive spirit that blasts out of that room is obvious.

In reality, Princeton wrestling is still on the way up. Its best days are still to come. Cornell is a huge favorite this weekend still.

But look where Princeton has gotten.

The year that the current Cornell streak began saw Princeton go 0-5 in the league. There would be six more 0-5s, with one 1-4, in the next seven years.

As recently as 2011, 2012 and 2013 Princeton went 1-4, 1-4 and 0-5. Then it was back-to-back 3-2s, and now a shot at the championship.

Princeton has certainly danced on the edge this year. Its three Ivy wins have come down to the last match each time.

Still, 3-0 is 3-0. And the Tigers are 3-0 heading into the final day of the regular team season.

It's a huge Saturday on the mat at Dillon Gym.

It's the biggest day of Princeton wrestling in a long time.

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