With a doubleheader this weekend against rivals Lehigh and Hofstra, Penn’s wrestling team has a chance to make a statement before the start of a much-awaited winter break.
The Quakers (0-1) are seeking revenge after losing last year to the Mountain Hawks and the Pride by scores of 21-15 and 23-13, respectively. To do so, they will have to overcome some key injuries, including at 197 pounds, where returning All-American Micah Burak will be out for a third consecutive week.
“This weekend, because of Micah being out, we need a couple of the guys to step up and win that bout that, on paper, we’re not favored to win,” coach Rob Eiter said. “We’ve stressed that to the team this week, and I think some of the young guys are definitely up for the challenge and at least are going to give out all they got.”
Both No. 21 Lehigh (2-1) and Hofstra (0-6) are facing similar challenges, adding an element of unpredictability to this weekend’s contests. The Pride, whom Penn will host Sunday, are having an especially tough time this year after entering the season ranked No. 25.
“All three teams — us, Hofstra and Lehigh — are pretty different teams from last year. Hofstra first, they’ve got quite a few injuries. They’re having a down year right now — things are just not clicking for them,” Eiter said. “In all honesty, if our kids come to wrestle on Sunday we’re pretty well-favored in most of the bouts.”
The task will be much tougher on Saturday at No. 21 Lehigh, which currently has five grapplers ranked in the top 20 of their respective weightclasses. But the Red and Blue are counting on getting a couple of surprise victories and accumulating extra points in the matches they’re favored in to give them the edge over their much-hated EIWA foe.
“In my head, I know that I’m supposed to get some bonus points from Lehigh,” Mark Rappo said. “So I’m not only looking to win there but also to get as many points possible for the team.”
Rappo, ranked No. 20 in the nation in the 125-pound weightclass, will face off against No. 17 Steve Bonnano of Hofstra — a key matchup for the senior wrestler, who’s still trying to get back in rhythm after redshirting last year.
“I’ve wrestled him before and I beat him, but that was a couple of years ago, and I’m still working on [getting] my timing back,” he said. “I feel good about it, I feel ready and I expect to win. And not just win, but build when I’m winning and keep scoring even when I’m up.”
Another key battle against Lehigh will be at 174 pounds, at which Penn’s Ian Korb will face No. 19 Nathaniel Brown. Korb topped Brown in overtime last year and needs to repeat that effort to help the Quakers defeat the Mountain Hawks — a feat they’ve only accomplished twice in the past 11 years.
“Being at Lehigh is going to be huge,” Eiter said. “They’re fun [and] they’re a very wrestling-knowledgeable crowd. They hate you for the seven minutes you’re out on the mat, and then after the match or the dual meet’s over [they’re] very thankful and appreciative to see you wrestle.”
For Eiter’s team, this weekend is its chance to prove it can live up to expectations. And Rappo knows very well what the Quakers have to do in order for that to happen.
“We’re hoping that somebody pulls a big win for themselves and for the team,” Rappo said. “The guys looked good at practice, so I’m expecting great things this weekend.”
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