Following Penn wrestling’s 35-10 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma State, it looked for a moment as if the team had set the bar a little too high for itself.
One weekend, 20 bouts and 13 victories later, the Quakers (2-1) made it clear they’re in it for real, winning 24-12 against No. 21 Lehigh and 21-12 against Hofstra.
The victory over the Mountain Hawks (3-2) marked the first time the Red and Blue defeated a ranked opponent since a 20-13 win over Penn State on Feb. 20, 2009. It also was Rob Eiter’s first triumph as a head coach over Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association rival Lehigh.
Despite the absence of returning All-American Micah Burak, Eiter’s squad took seven out of 10 bouts to defeat a Lehigh team that featured four ranked grapplers.
“That’s the exciting thing, it’s that we’re not even technically at 100 percent as a team,” Eiter said. “How far we can take it is kind of up to these guys and where they want to go.”
Senior Mark Rappo, ranked No. 20 in the nation in the 125-pound weightclass, got the Quakers off to a fast start with a pin of the Hawks’ Alex Abreu.
“I was going out there, I was excited,” Rappo said. “It was a big team match, so I went out there and just kind of locked it up really quick.”
The Red and Blue then increased their lead to 15-0 after victories by junior Geoffrey Bostany (133 pounds), sophomore C.J. Cobb (141) and junior Andrew Lenzi (149), who defeated returning EIWA champion and 19th-ranked Shane Welch, 3-2.
Troy Hernandez (157) suffered Penn’s first loss of the day against No. 4 Joey Napoli, in an 11-1 major decision. But freshman Casey Kent (165) quickly replied with a 4-3 victory over No. 17 Eric Hess, drawing rave reviews by his coach.
“Casey Kent is a 17-year-old true freshman, wrestling the Lehigh kid who’s nationally ranked, and not only beating him but the way he beat him, in the closing seconds of the match and still pushing forward — and then coming back [against Hofstra] and wrestling a physical match,” Eiter said.
Kent’s victory pushed the Quakers’ lead to 18-4, and despite two wins at 174 and 184 pounds, the Hawks never came back. Penn juniors Canaan Bethea (197) and Steven Graziano (285) finished up the day, each with 3-1 victories.
The next day, the Red and Blue hosted Hofstra (0-9) at the Palestra. Once again, Rappo gave the Quakers their first points of the day, this time with a 9-7 victory over No. 17 Steve Bonnano. The senior grappler led for most of the bout, but a last second takedown by Bonnano drew the match into an extra period.
“I kind of shut down my offense in the third [period] and he came back and I just got the takedown in overtime,” Rappo said. “It’s something I need to continue working on, it’s closing down matches and not go in full defense when I’m up.”
Jamie Franco tied the dual with a 6-1 victory over Bostany. Cobb’s narrow 5-4 loss at the hands of No. 10 Luke Vaith then put the Pride up, 6-3.
In another close bout at 149 pounds, Lenzi picked up a 7-6 win over Matt Spataro thanks to riding time. Hernandez subsequently gave the Quakers a commanding 11-6 lead after a 19-4 technical fall of Jay Lysne. Three victories in the remaining five bouts were enough for Penn to secure the win.
“Hofstra wrestled us hard today and pushed us, and that’s what a lot of teams are going to start doing now,” Eiter said. “When they come here, it would be a good win for them just like Lehigh was a good win for us.
“We have a little of a target on our back now too, and that’s okay.”