Mark Rappo is finally returning to the mat after a year away from his Penn wrestling family.
Rappo — who is one of five wrestling brothers — spent the 2011-12 season interning on Wall Street. Now, he returns as Penn’s only grappler at 125 pounds. Ranked No. 13 heading into the season, he will make his comeback Sunday in the Keystone Classic at the Palestra.
“It’s been a hard time, not being able to compete,” Rappo said. “But I have stayed fit and been training all year and am looking forward to Sunday.”
Rappo returns for his senior season, and in a side with a young roster, coach Rob Eiter knows that this is a time for him to lead.
“Mark is one of our senior guys, and of course he will step up,” Eiter said.
Both Eiter and Rappo have big expectations for his season. Having made the NCAAs and earning second-team all-Ivy honors in 2010-11, he is looking to go all the way this year.
“I am going for a national title, and hopefully [I will] help the team have a successful season as well,” he said.
Despite Rappo’s return, the Quakers face a tough road ahead. At 133 pounds, they lost 2012 graduate Bryan Ortenzio, a NCAA qualifier and EIWA champion who ended with the ninth-most career wins of any Penn wrestler.
For Eiter, however, this is the inevitable result of coaching college wrestling. He sees the loss of star performers as an opportunity for his team.
“At 133 pounds, the place is open,” he said. “We have three guys there, one a freshman, one a sophomore and one a junior, so that is exciting for the future.”
At 141, sophomore C.J. Cobb will look to replace Zach Kemmerer, who finished his career fourth in all-time wins and earned all-American honors.
Despite losing some of the team’s top wrestlers, Eiter believes that Penn can and will top last year’s performance, in which the Red and Blue had five wrestlers reach the NCAAs.
“I expect this to be a good year,” Eiter said. “I think we can win our conference and definitely improve on last season. This is a strong team with a good mix of youth and experience.”
It is clear, however, that for Penn to achieve success, some of the younger grapplers must have breakout seasons. At Binghampton on Sunday, there were already signs of the potential of the underclassmen, with freshman Casey Kent making it through to the finals in his first collegiate outing at the 165 class. Kent — who attended local La Salle College High School — was a four-time high school letter winner and a team captain.
The combination of younger wrestlers like Kent and veterans like Rappo could turn this into a successful season for the Red and the Blue. While the Quakers are ranked 36th, Rappo is confident that his final season can be his best.
“This is a quality team with a lot of strength in depth, so I think we are going to do well.”
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