By Arman Kassam
On Friday and Saturday, No. 25 Stanford men’s wrestling (7-3, 1-1 Pac-12) fell to both No. 20 Purdue (6-8, 2-5 Big-10) and Indiana (5-10, 1-6 Big-10) at 9-22 and 7-30, respectively. The pair of away losses has interrupted an otherwise stellar Cardinal season. But, despite the overall defeats, No. 15 redshirt sophomore Requir van der Merwe individually was able to steal two victories over the weekend.
Stanford’s first dual meet loss came as a surprise in late January. CSU Bakersfield (6-8, 2-1 Pac-12) overcame the Cardinal in six of ten matches, even garnering extra points for the only takedown of the meet.
And when the Cardinal are put in tough situations, the same handful of wrestlers come out on top. Just as No. 20 junior Gabriel Townsell (125 pounds), No. 15 Merwe and No. 9 redshirt sophomore Nathan Traxler (197 pounds) were able to claim wins in the loss against the Roadrunners back in January, so too were the trio able to prevail despite this weekend’s team losses. Traxler in particular has had a phenomenal season so far racking up two recent tournament titles, leading the Cardinal in pins and wins and never dropping a dual meet match. That is, until the Boilermakers came along.
Traxler lost 4-3 to No. 12 Christian Brunner, who took a double-leg takedown and rode out in the third period. In the Princeton Open at the beginning of the season, it was Brunner who fell to Traxler, who also serves as Stanford’s team captain.
But what seems like a one-season story of redemption runs far deeper: Brunner and Traxler were wrestling partners before they headed to college, raising the stakes of Friday’s bout. The engagement against Purdue was also not just about getting the receiving end of a revenge story — Townsell took down the wrestler ranked right just above him in the 125-pound class, No. 19 Devin Schroder. Similar to the “Townsell miracle” that occurred in the Cardinal’s match against No. 9 Arizona State (4-10, 1-1 Pac-12) — a match that turned into a Stanford victory with only eight seconds left in the meet — Townsell was able to secure a win with only eighteen seconds left on the clock.
Merwe won 6-1 against Parker Filius after scoring an escape and taking points from two takedowns in the third period; sophomore Dominick Mandarino, wrestling at 165 pounds, was the final Cardinal to win a match, improving 20-7 overall this season.
Saturday’s match against the Indiana Hoosiers proved to be even tougher. The Hoosiers have had a relatively erratic season, winning against heavyweights like No. 12 North Carolina (11-5, 3-0 ACC) but dropping matches to Michigan State (9-6, 3-4 Big-10).
Unfortunately, the Cardinal went up against Indiana at the crest of their oscillating abilities; Stanford was only able to notch two victories the entire day. Granted, many of the bouts were close, especially the matches with fifth-year Rico Stormer (174 pounds) and freshman Colbey Harlan (184 pounds).
Merwe continued his string of successes by taking down Fernie Silva, putting the Cardinal on the board and improving his record to 20-6 and 9-1 in duals this season. Traxler sought redemption after Friday’s loss to Brunner, crushing Jake Kleimola in an 11-3 major decision with three takedowns. The Cardinal left Bloomington, Indiana with a defeat, but it would be a mistake to say they left defeated.
Stanford is preparing for a rebound at Oregon State (4-6, 0-1 Pac-12) on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.