PU Wrestling Coach Chris Ayres Builds a Winning Program
By Bill Alden | Portrait by Frank Wojciechowski
Settling gingerly onto a couch in the living room of his Princeton home this July days after undergoing a hip replacement, Chris Ayres laughs through the pain, recounting the beginning of his wrestling career as a fourth-grader.
“I lost my first 14 matches, but then I won my last four,” says Ayres with his face creasing into a grin before he chuckles at the memory. “I wasn’t good at it right away but I loved it.”
That rough debut proved to be a harbinger of things to come as Ayres has gone on to fight and win a number of uphill battles in his wrestling career, fueled by his passion for the sport.
After not medaling in the New Jersey state championships during his career at Newton High, Ayres spent a year competing as a postgraduate at the Blair Academy and then walked on the Lehigh University wrestling team. He ended up as one of the greatest wrestlers ever for the Mountain Hawks, setting a program record with 120 victories and twice earning the school’s Outstanding Athlete award.
Ayres, though, failed in his bid to make the U.S. team for the world championships, and turned to coaching as an assistant at Lehigh. He spent five years learning the ropes and preparing himself to guide a college program.
In 2006, he undertook a massive challenge, becoming the head coach of a moribund Princeton University wrestling program that was mired in the cellar of the Ivy League. The Tigers went 0-35 in Ayres’ first two seasons but, true to character, he kept plugging. more