Crimson Grapplers Begin Well and Rebound from Injuries to End Strong
The Harvard wrestling team began the 2008-2009 season as the No. 25 team in the nation. But injuries sidelined key grapplers stripping the Crimson of its national ranking and forcing Harvard to forfeit key weight classes which made it hard for the Crimson to show off their full potential. By the end of the season, most of the injured returned to the mat and worked hard to achieve positive results.
For the fourth year in a row, the Crimson had at least one All-American. The Crimson finished in the top 50 at the NCAA Championships, marking the 11th time in the last 12 years Harvard has accomplished that feat.
Junior co-captain Louis Caputo led the way for the Crimson with another remarkable campaign. After missing out of competing in his home state at the 2008 NCAA Championships due to injury last season, he made his way to the 2009 national championship in St. Louis, Mo. and stood on the podium. Caputo earned All-America honors, for the second time in his career, by finishing eighth at this year's national meet. Caputo became the Crimson's 22nd All-American and the 15th under head coach Jay Weiss. Caputo finished the 2008-2009 season with an overall record of 34 wins and eight losses and a 14-1 record in dual action. Caputo's 34 wins this season ranks third on the all-time season wins list. Caputo, who was a first-team All-Ivy League recipient, also ends the season ranked fourth on the all-time career wins list with 103, just 29 behind all-time leader Jesse Jantzen '04 (132).
Sophomore Corey Jantzen and junior co-captain J.P. O'Connor also competed at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. Despite a series of injuries, Jantzen finished the season with a 14-3 overall record and a 5-0 mark in dual action. Unfortunately one of those injures flared up in his first match at the NCAA Championships, forcing the Shoreham, N.Y., native to withdraw from the tournament. O'Connor ended the season with a 32-5 overall record and a 16-1 dual mark and was just one win away from earning his third All-America honor. Freshman Walter Peppelman racked up 21 wins in his rookie season and improved with each match this season and showed he will definitely be a force to reckon with in seasons to come.
With 32 wins this season, O'Connor put his name on the all-time season wins list for the second time. O'Connor, who has the most wins all-time in a season with 37, also ranks fourth for his success in 2008-2009. His 97 career victories currently ranks sixth all-time in the Crimson annuals.
Caputo, O'Connor and Jantzen were the three grapplers at the EIWA Championships. All three finished in the top three for their divisions to earn a spot at the NCAAs. O'Connor and Jantzen both finished second and Caputo finished third. Collectively, the Crimson finished eighth in the team competition as all nine grapplers competing in the crimson and white left everything on the mat with their best wrestling efforts of the season. Senior Thomas Picarsic, junior Andrew Knapp and Peppelman all wrestled well at the EIWA Championships.
Although being injured for a portion of the season, Jantzen posted wins against quality opponents. Jantzen defeated the eventual national champion, No. 1 J. Jagger of Ohio State, 4-3, and pinned No. 4 C. Drouin of Arizona State, in 2:02 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational en route to the 141 pound title. Jantzen walked into the tournament unranked and left with the No. 1 ranking in the nation. When injuries set Jantzen to the sidelines, his No. 1 ranked disappeared, but when he returned, he compiled a 4-2 against nationally ranked opponents.
O'Connor also posted an impressive win this season. At the Binghamton Brute Open, O'Connor defeated No. 1 J. Leen of Cornell, 7-5, to capture the 157 pound title. During the season, O'Connor had a 19-match win streak between Dec. 6 and Mar. 8. where he defeated four nationally ranked opponents. O'Connor posted a 6-3 record versus top-20 opponents in 2008-2009.
Caputo captured the title in the 184 pound weight class by defeating C. Simaz of Cornell, 6-3, at the Brute Binghamton Open to join O'Connor on the top of the podium. He also placed second at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and recorded his best finish at the Midlands Championships, taking fourth. Peppelman had strong showings at the Brute Binghamton Open, finishing second.
Despite forfeiting at least one weight classes each match, the Crimson compiled a 5-12 record for the season, tallied key wins over Columbia, Princeton and Stanford. The Crimson also competed against seven teams ranked in the top 25, including No. 2 Cornell and No. 5 Missouri. When the squad was healthy, they challenged several of the top teams in the nation, falling to No. 7 Minnesota by two matches, and Cal Poly by just three points.
All of Harvard's point scorers from the conference meet and three NCAA qualifiers return in 2009-10. Combined that with a talented incoming class, a healthy Crimson squad will do damage in the Ivy League, EIWA and NCAA competition.