Brett Harner Extends Dream Season, Becomes 9th Tiger To Earn All-American
And Brett Harner.
Harner, the junior who claimed Princeton's first EIWA championship in 13 years just two weeks ago, followed that up by becoming the ninth wrestler in program history to become an All-American Friday night at Madison Square Garden. He finished eighth at 197 pounds to cap a historic March.
After losing to eventual NCAA champion J'den Cox of Missouri 6-0 in the quarterfinal, Harner bounced back in style with a third-period fall over Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State in the Round of 12 to clinch All-America status.
After a scoreless opening period, Weigel chose the top position and rode Harner for 55 seconds before the Tiger junior escaped for a 1-0 lead. That was critical timing, because it allowed Harner to choose neutral and force Weigel to attack without the riding time point in his possession.
"On top of getting that actual point, he would have had so much confidence if he rode me out," Harner said. "I knew he was going to come after me, and counter offense has been my strongest asset on my feet. I was looking forward to some action."
Harner countered one attack for a takedown midway through the period, but Weigel escaped and tried for one final takedown and a potential overtime. And that was when Harner clinched it; he caught the underhook on the shot attempt, whipped him to his back and clinched his All-American status at 6:38 of the match.
"It's definitely still pretty surreal at the moment," Harner said afterwards. "It doesn't seem very real. This is what we've been working towards since I stepped in to the coaches' office as a recruit."
Harner spoke of his normally stoic post-match reaction after his second-round win, but the emotion and joy was clear on his face after the win. He embraced head coach Chris Ayres, who has spent a decade building the Princeton program into one that:
• wrestled for the Ivy League title for the first time in 30 years
• hosted the EIWA Championships for the second time in five years
• earned a Top-5 finish at EIWAs for the first time in 38 years
• won an EIWA individual title for the first time in 13 years
• produced an All-American for the first time in 13 years
"It's perfect that it was Brett who did it," Ayres said. "It's what's supposed to happen. Especially this class, and not to say we haven't had really important classes before, but with Jordan and Ray here, they've all been change agents for the program, but especially Brett as the lead guy. Now anybody that comes here, he gives them permission to become All-American. It seems like a tough thing to do, but they'll see him next to them, and they know they can do it. We'll have some really motivated guys this spring."
Harner’s quarterfinal against second-seeded J’den Cox featured a valiant effort against the 2014 NCAA champion, but Harner simply couldn’t find any room for offense against the Missouri junior. Cox got an early ankle takedown and rode Harner throughout the period, and then again after another takedown.
After falling to Patrick Downey of Iowa State 3-1 after a late takedown, he fell in the seventh-place match 11-2 to fifth-seeded Connor Hartmann of Duke.
Harner was one of three Princeton wrestlers in competition Friday. Classmates Jordan Laster and Ray O'Donnell both won their consolation opener Thursday, and Laster added a Friday morning win, but both ultimately fell short of the Round of 12.
Laster opened his Friday against 15th-seeded Brock Zacherl of Clarion, and he used his tireless aggression carry him to an 8-4 win. Zacherl actually scored the first takedown of the match, but Laster was able to pick up his own in the second to get back even.
The third period belonged to Laster, who was able to secure a second takedown and turn Zacherl for two near-fall points in an 8-5 victory.
That moved him into a third-round consolation match with Nebraska’s Anthony Abidin; the two had met earlier this season in, of all places, Madison Square Garden during the Grapple at the Garden. Laster won a low-scoring 2-1 decision that day against the nationally ranked Abidin, but the two were about to wrestle a more offensive match the second time around.
Laster was the early aggressor and scored a takedown, but Abidin got one of his own later in the first period. Laster got in deep on a shot midway through the third, but Abidin scrambled and ultimately put Laster on his back. The Tiger junior fought off the pin attempt early, but the patient Abidin continued to lock it in and got the fall at 4:42.
It marked the second straight year that Laster both placed at EIWAs — 2nd in 2015, 5th in 2016 — and won multiple matches at the NCAA Championships.
O’Donnell opened his Friday with a quick takedown of 15th-seeded Tyler Harms of Wyoming, but Harms was able to get a reversal later in the period, and then turned O’Donnell for the fall with 25 seconds remaining in the opener.
O’Donnell wraps up the best season of his Princeton career with 29 victories, a fourth-place finish at the EIWA Championships and a technical fall victory in the NCAA Championships.