One could forgive the Red and Blue if they were content to strive for a replication of last year.
After all, the 2010-11 season saw six Penn wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Instead, coach Rob Eiter has put together an incredibly challenging schedule, which will feature four of the top-10 finishers from last year’s NCAAs, including fifth-place American and sixth-place Arizona State.
Ranked No. 15 nationally by InterMat, the Quakers will compete in the Midlands Championships — Dec. 29-30 in Evanston, Ill. — for the first time since 2004.
“Next to NCAAs, [Midlands is] the hardest tournament in the country,” said Eiter, a former assistant at Northwestern.
And the annual showdown with national runner-up Cornell will take place at the Palestra on Jan. 14.
On last season, Eiter said his team made “that mental switch to ‘We’re good,” but stressed that he hasn’t had to do much to motivate a squad clearly “not satisfied” with resting on its laurels.
Senior All-American Zack Kemmerer is the Quakers’ most accomplished returnee. Last season, the 141-pounder took eighth place at NCAAs and won a school record 39 matches.
Placing third at last year’s Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, he enters this season ranked first in the conference and fourth nationally.
Junior 197-pounder Micah Burak is also a returning NCAA qualifier. Only one win shy of All-American status last season, he is also a two-time EIWA runner-up. This year he will try to dethrone Cornell’s Cam Simaz, who defeated him in the EIWA final in each of the last two seasons.
Other key returnees for the Quakers include senior Mark Rappo at 125, senior Bryan Ortenzio at 133 and sophomore heavyweight Kyle Cowan. Rappo qualified for NCAAs and was an EIWA runner-up last year. Ortenzio missed all of his junior season due to injury but was an NCAA qualifier as a sophomore. Cowan was last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
While these weights seem to be fairly set, there should be a number of intriguing battles for starting positions.
Eiter anticipated a number of freshmen would contend for these top spots, including Steven Robertson at 149, Lorenzo Thomas at 165 and Ian Korb at 174.
For the 157 class, junior Troy Hernandez will begin the season as the starter. He missed most of last season due to injury and said it “felt great” to be back on the mat in the team’s intrasquad match.
Hernandez also spoke about the help he received while injured, saying that the coaches “supported my decision to take the year.”
He also emphasized the encouragement and advice from teammates, who gave him tips on how to adjust his wrestling style to protect and prevent future injury.
With the challenges that lie ahead, the team is anxious to begin its season Sunday at the Binghamton Open.
“It’s frustrating to wrestle the same guys day in and day out, but that’s part of the process,” Kemmerer said. “I know [we] are ready to finally get into competition.”