The wear and tear of the regular season is finally over, which means it’s playoff time for the Penn wrestling team.
The stakes will be high for the Quakers at this weekend’s Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships in Princeton, N.J.
Already qualified for NCAAs, wrestlers such as No. 11 Zack Kemmerer (141 pounds), No. 13 Bryan Ortenzio (133) and No. 10 Micah Burak (197) will be fighting for seeding — and for pride.
“You don’t want to question yourself,” Kemmerer said. The senior will be the No. 1 seed in his weightclass at the EIWAs.
Newly crowned Ivy League Rookie of the Year Lorenzo Thomas, who is ranked No. 30 at 165 pounds, and fellow freshman Steve Robertson, ranked No. 25 at 149 pounds, will need to win to qualify for NCAAs.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a fifth-year senior or a true freshman, you still got to wrestle the match,” coach Rob Eiter said. “Somebody’s going to win, so it might as well be you.”
In order to make sure his wrestlers are ready both physically and mentally, Eiter has scaled back on the workouts and trainings.
“The EIWAs are sort of the mini version of the nationals,” Kemmerer said. “[The intensity] puts a hurt on your body.”
In contrast to his grapplers, Eiter prefers it that way.
“If there’s a big time in between matches, your body kind of shuts down, you get relaxed, you get out of that game mode,” he said. “Sometimes when you get into that rhythm it’s easier to maintain that intensity and that focus.”
The coach even used mock seedings to strategize against potential opponents.
“You don’t have to beat every single guy in the conference, you just got to beat the two or three [you’re going to face],” Eiter said.
Indeed, most of the Red and Blue’s opponents will be familiar faces.
“The good thing about wrestling the guys all the time is that you’re not seeing somebody brand new and don’t have to prepare for some obscure technique,” Eiter said.
Ortenzio’s main foe will be Harvard’s No. 12 Steven Keith, to whom he has lost twice this season. Kemmerer’s field consists of four other wrestlers ranked No. 23 or better — including No. 17 Stephen Dutton from Lehigh, with whom he has “bad blood.”
Burak needs to find a way to finally defeat Cornell’s top-ranked Cam Simaz. And for senior Erich Smith (184), it’s his last shot at the NCAAs.
The younger, less-experienced wrestlers must beat ranked opponents if they want the chance to compete at nationals.
Robertson and Thomas are 4-4 and 2-7, respectively, against ranked opponents this season. If they step up their games, they both have a good chance of making it through.
“[I’m] working on a couple mistakes I’ve done in the last matches,” Thomas said. “I should be able to beat them and make it this time around.”
One thing’s for sure: Eiter’s guys will be all-in this weekend, no matter the year, weightclass or rank.
“If they’re not out there to win this weekend, then something’s not right,” Eiter said.