February 21, 2001:
off the mat Wrestling reverses fortunes of program; again garners
top academic honors
Matt Golden's From
the Cheap Seats column
Bonfiglio locks up the competition. Photography:
off the mat
Wrestling reverses fortunes of program; again garners
top academic honors
In 1993, Princeton announced
that it would discontinue the school's varsity wrestling program.
Tiger wrestlers had grappled formidably with opponents since 1905,
but the university's decision appeared to be the lone adversary
capable of pinning the proud program to the mat.
Soon after, Princeton
alumni stepped forward and rallied to support the program, raising
sufficient funds to keep the program afloat. And the university
trustees allowed the team to maintain its varsity status and continue
to compete in the Ivy League, without the financial backing of the
university. Eric Pearson '87 assumed the role of head coach,
and the wrestling program was credited with an escape. (See story
on page 18 for more details.)
In 1997, Pearson and
the alumni handed the coaching reins over to Mike New. Now in his
fifth season as head coach, New has seen his Tigers muster a 7--4
record heading into Ivy competition this season. Though the team's
recent successes highlight a remarkable comeback, New claims he
never doubted that the program would eventually flourish. He reflects
with tremendous gratitude on the support alumni have provided, but
prefers to remain in the present when discussing his wrestlers.
"Our object is to
be the very best we can," New, who graduated from Cornell in
1992, says. "To wrestle at Princeton is an opportunity, not
a foregone conclusion. We expect success because that is the way
we approach things. We work hard to get stronger. We work hard to
get quicker. We work hard to get better. Fortunately, we have great
kids in our program who belong at Princeton.
"Our alumni have
been huge. Their support has been phenomenal. They are hard-core,
dedicated alumni who are very thankful for the experience they had
at Princeton. I hope I can make the alumni as proud of me as I am
to be representing them."
Last year's team
struggled through a 3--10 season. Two of its top wrestlers,
Juan Venturi '02 and Ryan Bonfiglio '01, took a year off
-- Venturi in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center
-- while veterans Chris McLaughlin '01 and Joe Rybacki
'01 lost most of the season to injury. With those four back
in the fold, Princeton is poised for a strong year.
Bonfiglio, a first-team All-Ivy selection in 1998, was recently
named the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Wrestler
of the Week. He upset Matt Lackey (ranked ninth nationally) of the
University of Illinois 3--2 in the 165-pound weight class at
the North Carolina State dual meets. Bonfiglio went on to post a
3--0 record at N.C. State and is 15--5 overall this season.
and Venturi back obviously helps, but I think everyone being a year
older and more mature has made the biggest difference," New
says. "The approach guys like [Jeff] Bernd '01, [Scott]
Pasquini '01, [Joe] Clarke '03, and [Greg] Parker '03
take to practice every day manufactures success.
"Last year we took
a lateral step instead of a step forward. Without those four guys,
who were starters the year before, it was tough. But this year,
it's as if we've taken a leap forward. That's due
to young wrestlers getting experience last season."
Though claiming its first
Ivy League championship since 1986 would give the team and its supporters
a fresh taste of satisfaction, the wrestling program has a more
significant title to defend. For the past four seasons, they've
been wrestling's academic national champions. The 1999--2000
Tiger grapplers posted a team grade-point-average of 3.3735 --
tops in the country for the fourth consecutive year. This achievement
proves that the intense work ethic and tenacity of New's squad
isn't restricted to the confines of the Class of '58 Wrestling
New plans on using his
top wrestlers for all Ivy League competition, but will allow some
younger talent to compete in nonconference matches, hoping to pursue
the Ivy League championship while at the same time building the
overall strength of the program.
not the best guy to give predictions, but I expect to win the Ivy
and EIWA championships," New says. "I want to produce
some All-Americas and have kids wrestling for the national championship.
These kids deserve it, as do all the alumni who have supported us
-- guys like Clay McEldowney '69, John Orr '85, and
Bill Fortenbaugh '58, just to name a few.
"This university should be proud of our program. We produce
By Mark Gola
Mark Gola is a frequent contributor to PAW.
Former Ivy League Player
of the Year and five-year NFL veteran Keith Elias '94 completed
a four-week training camp for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen on
January 29. While the name sounds like a spin-off from the HBO series
The Sopranos, the Hitmen are one of eight teams in the XFL, a brand-new
professional football league co-owned by NBC and the World Wrestling
According to the commercials
on NBC, the XFL is "the toughest football ever played."
According to Vince McMahon, the creative force behind both the WWF
and XFL, "this will not be a league for pantywaists and sissies."
According to Elias, who served as a backup running back for the
NFL's New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts from 1994
to 1999, it's a chance to impact a football team again.
excited to play again," the former Tiger says. "It was
great to play in the NFL, but in the NFL my career has been characterized
by backing up Hall of Fame running backs. This is a situation where
it will be fun just to be able to play again and be able to get
on the field and actually contribute offensively."
Elias, a two-time consensus
first-team All-America who set 21 school records at Princeton, was
not picked in the 1994 NFL draft, but he signed with the Giants
and made the roster because coach Dan Reeves liked his intensity.
His stint with the Giants ended in December 1996, when the running
back tore a ligament in his knee. In 1998 he resurfaced with the
Colts, playing primarily on special teams. But on February 11, 2000,
Elias's NFL career came to a crashing halt. Four days after
he, his two brothers, and New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet
were arrested in connection with a bar fight in Seaside Heights,
New Jersey, the Colts released Elias from his contract. Though the
timing seems to indicate otherwise, Elias says he was a victim more
of the NFL's salary cap than the incident at the bar.
"It really had nothing
to do with [the fight]," Elias explains. "In the NFL,
they have minimum salaries based on years in the league. Now that
I've reached veteran status, my minimum salary was really too
high for teams to be able to fit me under the cap as a nonstarter.
I talked to [Colts president] Bill Polian during the year, and I
asked him point-blank when and if he was going to bring me back,
and he told me the reason why he couldn't bring me back was
the salary cap."
So Elias is taking his
game to the XFL, where he says the quality of play is fairly high.
"Pretty much everybody that's here has either been in
an NFL camp or been on an NFL roster for a while," Elias says.
"The quality level is far beyond college. The guys who start
in the NFL are the greatest players in the world. But basically,
the guys in this league are every bit as good as any backup in the
NFL. It's a much quicker game, in terms of the pace of the
game . . . we have a 35-second (play) clock, not a 40-second clock.
They never rekick a punt or a kickoff; they just assess the penalty
and keep the game going. I love it."
The XFL promises to offer
an in-your-face brand of football. The league has made alterations
to several NFL rules that govern on-field play and celebration.
The most publicized rule change has been the abolition of the fair
catch on punt returns, where in the NFL a player can raise his hand
and the coverage team must allow the player to catch the ball unfettered.
It sounds like a minor change, but not to Elias, who caught one
punt in an XFL preseason game. "It is unreal," Elias says.
"The punt that I caught was a real short punt, and I ran up
to get it and got absolutely blasted. I actually believe that my
particular punt is going to be the commercial for the no fair-catch
Unlike many in the XFL,
Elias is not playing for a chance to return to the NFL, but he wants
to always stay involved in football in some way. "The younger
guys are looking for this to be a stepping-stone into the NFL."
Elias explains. "But a guy like me, I'm looking at it
to have fun. Whatever happens for me happens. If the NFL happens,
I certainly wouldn't balk at that, but it's not something
that's on my mind."
By Phillip R. Thune 92
Phillip Thune is a freelance
writer in New York.
Academic All-Ivy selections were recently announced for the fall
athletic season. Princeton honorees included seniors Emily Brown
(soccer), Jenny Lankford (soccer), Kellie Maul (field hockey), Melanie
Meerschwam (field hockey), Kristi Rosso (cross country), Geoff Gasperini
(sprint football), Chris Gratian (water polo), Michael Higgins (football),
and Mike Piazza (sprint football), and junior Marshall Roslyn (water
Jesse Marsch '96
and Jacob Dowden '96 were the top vote-getters for the GoPrincetonTigers.com
All-Decade Men's Soccer Team. Others named to the squad include
Jason White '03, Chad Adams '00, Griff Behncke '00,
Graeme Rein '02, Andrew Lewis '98, Andre Parris '97,
Joe Thieman '94, David Hocher '93, and Mike Nugent '02.
Voting was open to the public and was conducted on the university's
official athletic Web site.
Freshmen Konrad Wysocki
(men's basketball), Gretchen Anderson (women's ice hockey),
and Megan Van Beusekom (women's ice hockey) were each named
Ivy League Rookie of the Week in January.