Rankings can provoke a lot of emotion among sports fans. But how do they affect the sportsmen whose actions define these rankings?
This Sunday, No. 17 Penn wrestling will square off against No. 15 Maryland — or at least according to InterMat. In other polls, the Quakers range from No. 20 to 24. That includes the NWCA coaches poll, which ends up being the most important for the wrestlers.
“Rankings are going to determine your seeding at the NCAA tournament, at the conference tournament, and that’s important,” coach Rob Eiter said. “We don’t talk about it, but still, everybody knows it’s out there.”
Some wrestlers ignore them, while others obsess over their rank.
“My first year as a starter that’s all I cared about,” senior Zach Kemmerer said. “I didn’t qualify for a spot so I needed to worry about the rankings.”
This time around, things are a little different, as Kemmerer is No. 2 in the nation — Penn’s highest ranked wrestler — in the 141-pound weight class. This almost guarantees him a spot at NCAAs, as he would get an at-large bid even if he exits the EIWA conference tournament early.
“That’s the goal. Make the nationals, win the nationals,” Kemmerer said.
For upperclassmen, such as Kemmerer, No. 15 Bryan Ortenzio (133 lbs) or No. 8 Micah Burak (197), who are well-known and have been consistently ranked, it is easier to get attention than for freshmen, such as Lorenzo Thomas (165), Steve Robertson (149) or Ian Korb (174).
“You can’t just know guys in your league or your conference,” Eiter said. “A lot of times coaches will have maybe one or two guys ranked … and pay more attention to those weight classes than they do to the other ones. [The coaches] just have to do their homework.”
The ranking process can depend on a lot of different, subjective factors and that’s why coaches push freshmen with potential to perform.
“They just need to continue to wrestle hard and have good showings, beat quality opponents. Their time will come,” Eiter said.
The rankings can also affect the way a match is approached.
“You’ve got to cater to [the wrestlers’] personality,” Eiter said.
This weekend, Thomas will have a chance to prove himself against the Terrapins’ No. 2 ranked Josh Asper.
At the same time, Burak can solidify his position in the rankings by defeating No. 9 Christian Boley, who is undeafeated this season.
But for the coach of the Red and Blue, there is something way more important than rankings.
“At the end of the day, you’ve still got to wrestle. Eventually you’re going to have to beat [your opponent], it depends on when you want to do it,” Eiter said.
His grapplers share the same feeling.
“That magic number doesn’t do anything,” Kemmerer said. “It’s in the back of their mind, it’s in the back of your mind, it’s all a piece of paper and it does you nothing when you’re out there on the mat.”