Tuesday, February 11, 2020

More #Princeton500

If you were in the Jadwin Gym lobby yesterday afternoon, you would have noticed the Tiger, the t-shirts, the athletes, the coaches and the general mood of festivity.

The occasion was the day-after celebration of the #Princeton500, the milestone of having reached 500 Ivy League championships in program history. There was a backdrop set up for pictures, and Princeton Athletics social media continued to be the place to be to see it all.

Of all the pictures that TB saw yesterday, the best was the one with sophomore wrestler Travis Stefanik, all smiles, with a t-shirt. And why wouldn't he be smiling? It was his win Sunday against Cornell that provided the deciding team points and gave Princeton that 500th win.

TB is pretty sure that's Stefanik.

TigerBlog wrote yesterday that Chris Ayres had built the Princeton wrestling program from the ground up.

His dear friend and former 10-time Heptagonal track champion John Mack gave him the line he should have used. Ayres, Mack said, built his team from the basement up.

That's much better. The basement to which Mack refers is the Jadwin Gym basement, the one that has the wrestling room, which shares a wall with the Office of Athletic Communications. It was in that room into which Ayres walked in before the 2006-07 season.

Back then, Cornell was in the early stages of what would grow to be a 17-year run as Ivy League champion. Also at the time, Princeton Wrestling was in need of a rebirth, and Ayres had the drive to make that happen.

There have been amazing rebuilding jobs at Princeton before. What Ayres has done is up there with anything anyone here has ever done.

After two years, he was 0-35. He lost his first 15 Ivy League matches, which ran the program's league run to 33 straight. Then things started to change.

And Sunday, he got his Tigers to the top, with a lot of help from his staff of Sean Gray, Joe Dubuque and Nate Jackson. It was Sunday at Jadwin where Princeton defeated Cornell 19-13, ending that long Cornell Ivy title run, as well as the Big Red's long Ivy winning streak (92 straight).

It was way up there with anything TB has ever seen at Princeton. It would have stood on its own merit, but it become even more dramatic when you factored in that it was the 500th title.

TB also got this from John Mack yesterday about the video of Stefanik's dramatic win in the final 10 seconds that gave Princeton those clinching points: "I have never wrestled a day in my life and I haven't worn a Princeton uniform in 20 years. But scenes like that still make me emotional."

There is so much that could be said about the wrestling team, and TB is going to let his former colleague and also dear friend Craig Sachson tell you about it later in the week. Craig has asked to share his thoughts about his time with Ayres and the wrestling program, and the floor will be his to do so.

In the meantime, TB offers another round of congratulations to the entire wrestling program.

The wrestling title and the 500th win weren't the only big stories this weekend.

There was also a matter of the women's tennis team, which improved to 5-1 by winning two of three matches at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Chicago this weekend. Princeton, ranked 17th in the country, lost to No. 7 North Carolina State before bouncing back to take out Arizona State and then sixth-ranked Pepperdine.

Princeton reached the final rounds in Chicago after beating two other Top 20 teams - Washington and USC - earlier.

The highlight of the weekend came at No. 1 singles in the match against Pepperdine, where Princeton's Brianna Shvets defeated Ashley Lahey, who happens to be the No. 1-ranked player in the country.

That's pretty impressive stuff as well.

There was more, including a sweep by the women's hockey team and another by the women's basketball team. That women's sweep included the 400th career win for head coach Carla Berube, who won 383 of those games in 17 years at Tufts.

Mostly, though, this weekend was about the 500th and the celebration that followed. As TB said, all of Princeton's social media was buzzing over it, as it should have been.

And now it's time to move ahead. There are other championships to chase, including for the wrestling team, which still needs to beat Penn this weekend to win an outright title, not to mention seven competitive Ivy rivals who are looking for their own celebrations.

No matter what, though, the wrestling story will always be a great one.

And Craig will be able to tell it best.

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