Unfinished business — that was the Princeton wrestling team motto for the 2021-22 season.
Twelve months and two NCAA finalists later, the team is now carrying that same slogan into the fall.
“I feel like we still have that chip on our shoulder,” Quincy Monday, a 2022 NCAA finalist at 157 pounds, said in an interview with NCAA.com. “We really want to go out with a bang and put an exclamation mark on the top of [next] season.”
Monday, along with his 125-pound All-American teammate Patrick Glory, made history for the Tigers when they broke through their brackets at the 2022 tournament and won emotional semifinal matches to earn a spot in the national championships. While they both came just shy of victory in the finals matches, they sent a message about the Princeton's potential as a powerhouse program.
These performances have been years in the making and represent just the latest result of a program that head coach Chris Ayres has been building for nearly two decades. This growth is expected to continue in 2023, and it's the history of the program that motivates this current group of talented athletes.
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The rise of the Tigers
Nearly 17 years ago, during Princeton head coach Chris Ayres’ first year at the helm, his team finished 0-17. The next year, he just about matched that record, going 0-18. Fast forward to today, and the Tigers are consistently in the Top 25 nationally. This jump has given Princeton an underdog reputation and created the perception that the team is consistently "on the rise," but that narrative doesn’t bother Ayres. In fact, he embraces it.
“It’s important to our history,” he said. “I think the fact that I’ve been here for so long keeps that narrative alive, so I don’t mind it because it tells the story: here’s where we were, here’s where we are.”
This constant push towards success, this drive to be tougher, has come to define the Princeton wrestling program over the last several years, and the team takes pride in this reputation.
“The culture [at Princeton] is a group of gritty, hard-working kids,” Glory, Ayres' first Ivy League wrestler of the year, said. “We’re not the stars of the show, but we put our wheelbarrow to work so to speak and just show up and do what we are supposed to do. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but at the end of the day, we can look back and say we did everything right.”
Under Ayres’ leadership, Princeton has produced All-Americans, Ivy League champions, and now, two NCAA finalists. Every season inches Princeton closer to where Ayres would like it to be, and the next step is that individual NCAA title for one of his wrestlers. For Glory and Monday, in particular, that goal is closer than it’s ever been.
The development of the stars
Glory has been one of the stars of the Princeton program since his early days on campus, as he came to the Tigers as a highly-touted recruit and experienced immediate success for the Orange and Black. He finished his first dual season with just four losses — all against future multiple-time All-Americans — before going on to win the EIWA conference tournament and finish sixth at NCAAs. Glory quickly made a name for himself as one of the most competitive lightweight wrestlers in the country, but his career has been anything but conventional.
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After his standout rookie year, Glory was on track for another podium finish, when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 season just days before the NCAA tournament. The Ivy League then canceled the 2021 season, forcing Glory and many of his teammates to take gap years and find alternative ways to train.
In the 2022 season, his first semi-normal season since his freshman year, Glory won the Cliff Keen Invitational and took over the top spot in his weight class by early winter. The return of 2019 NCAA champion Nick Suriano added depth and intrigue to Glory’s quest for a national title in late January, and those two would ultimately meet in the NCAA finals after Glory beat Ivy League rival Vito Arujau in the semifinals.
Running onto the mat during the finals, Glory said the environment felt “crazy, large and god-like,” and he wrestled with aggression and fearlessness, feelings that he plans to replace with patience and calmness next year.
“As you start getting to the very best and the very top, you’re going to have tight matches, you’re going to have close matches,” Glory said. “[It’s about] not getting frustrated when that happens, not getting flustered in not being able to score.”
Glory’s performances and mindset have inspired his teammates, including his fellow national finalist Quincy Monday, and together the two of them have pushed each other to step up, even when the pressure mounts.
“[Pat’s] just such a big motivating factor for our team because of the intensity that he wrestles, [and] how hard he puts his effort into everything he does,” Monday said, reflecting on Glory’s semifinals performance and his tournament as a whole. “I want to go out there and do that too. I want to be right there with him.”
Monday’s rise has been a little more gradual than Glory’s, as he finished his rookie season 24-13 in 2019 and went 0-2 at the NCAA tournament. His sophomore year, before the COVID cancellation, Monday had put himself in position to be a serious threat at his weight, posting a 24-4 record and finishing second at EIWAs.
This year, of course, Monday reached a new level, winning EIWAs and taking home silver at the national tournament. He still thinks about that first year though when he reflects on his career. He remembers the losses, and he even remembers what he captioned his Instagram post after that tournament: “Unfinished business.”
The new era of Princeton wrestling
Monday and Glory will return in the fall for one last shot at their goals, but they’ll be joined by a deep roster, one of the largest that program has had in a while. Head coach Chris Ayres notes that COVID has created a situation where he’ll have 35+ guys on his team, but he’s excited about a couple of star recruits including Ty Whalen, Kole Mulhauser, Rocco Camillaci and Christopher Martino.
I’m excited to announce that I am committed to the admissions process with Princeton University. I’d like to thank my friends and family for getting me here. All glory to God! #GETin pic.twitter.com/6IeVCLufqB— TyJamesWhalen (@Tywhalen48) January 15, 2021
These are names that people will recognize, Ayres said, but some of the best stories come from athletes that have breakout performances and start to reach new peaks during their collegiate careers. This new class will undoubtedly look to the success of the veterans, including Glory and Monday, and these leaders have high expectations for the younger generation of Princeton wrestling.
“I see myself in a lot of these kids, I see myself in their shoes when I was coming in as a freshman,” Glory said. “It’s really been amazing to see these kids hit the ground running. That’s exciting for me as a leader, as one of the guys that wants to be a motivator.”
This year will mark a melding of the new and the old for Princeton, as all of the starters from last season return and work to develop this new class. Uniting all of them though, is the knowledge that they want more to build on the success that they’ve had in the past. They want conference titles and national titles. They want what they came just short of last year. They have unfinished business.