The Palestra will be rocking and wrestlers will be rolling — on the mats, that is — when Penn hosts the 18th annual Keystone Classic on Sunday.
This year, 14 schools from across the country will make the trip to Philadelphia for one of the nation’s premier tournaments.
Finishing near the top will be difficult in such a loaded field, which features last year’s champion No. 13 Northwestern as well as Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association rivals American, Brown, Harvard and Princeton.
“It’s a diverse group of teams, some Big Ten teams coming in, teams from the south,” senior Mark Rappo said. “Then you have the Ivies, the guys you’re going to see a lot of. It’s a good mix of different styles.”
Rappo enters the Classic ranked No. 13 in the 125-pound weightclass following his year off from the sport to intern on Wall Street. But that long break only serves as motivation.
“I feel good. I feel in shape,” he said. “I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been to get back out there.”
Although Rappo will be among the favorites in his weightclass, one opponent he’ll have to watch out for is Harvard’s Jeff Ott, who is coming off a second-place finish at the Binghamton Open last weekend.
The Quakers have a fair chance to shine in several other weightclasses as well, notably the 165- and 197-pound brackets.
Casey Kent, a freshman from Norristown, Pa., will lead the charge at 165 pounds. He had his first taste of success at the college level in his debut tournament in Binghamton.
Beginning with a 17-0 stomping of Bloomsburg’s Mark Granahan, Kent took down his next three opponents before falling in the final to Rider’s Ramon Santiago. This weekend, he is looking forward to a rematch.
“I know a lot of [teams] will be the same from last week,” he said. “The one kid from Rider I lost to, I think I can beat him. But there will be some tough matches.”
Unfortunately for Kent, some of the visiting teams’ best grapplers compete at 165, including No. 14 Pierce Harger of Northwestern and No. 20 Ryan LeBlanc of Indiana.
But Kent is not intimidated by the competition.
“I’ve been working hard,” he said. “[I] feel in pretty good shape, so I can go for seven minutes pretty hard. I’m just going out there and wrestling as hard as I can, not really worrying about what happens.”
At 197, No. 9 Micah Burak is looking to take home his third Keystone championship for Penn. Coming off a second-place finish at Binghamton, where he was narrowly upset in the finals, he faces a field highlighted by Bloomsburg’s No.17 Richard Perry and replete with top-five finishers from other tournaments.
Defending their home turf and providing momentum heading into the first dual meet of the year on Nov. 25 against Oklahoma State is priority No. 1 this weekend.
“[We] are going to be much more prepared,” Rappo said. “Ready to go in front of the home fans.”
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