The Penn wrestling team may be facing two struggling opponents, but there should still be plenty of excitement at the Palestra this weekend.
The No. 23 Quakers (8-3, 3-1 Ivy) will compete Saturday against Princeton and Sunday against Drexel before moving on to postseason play.
First, the team will celebrate Senior Day versus Princeton. Four seniors — Mark Rappo, Micah Burak, Troy Hernandez and Mike Steltenkamp — will be honored for their dedication to the program over their collegiate careers.
Though the Tigers (2-11, 0-4 Ivy) have had an unspectacular season, the Penn-Princeton rivalry transcends the teams’ current situations.
“These guys understand the importance of the Princeton match,” coach Rob Eiter said. “It’s a time where we can work on things and try new things, but they’re completely focused.”
The Red and Blue’s last regular-season match of the season, against Drexel, will serve as a final tune-up before the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships in two weeks.
The Dragons (8-11, 3-3 CAA) have dropped their previous two matches in decisive fashion but will want to snap Penn’s hot streak.
Captain and No. 14 Rappo will look to do what he always does and start the Quakers off on the right foot.
“I’d rather have myself go first,” Rappo said. “It allows me to set the tone of the match and be more than just one of the 10.”
And he certainly has been more than that.
“The way he trains and the way he competes, [there’s] certainly a noticeable difference in the team when he doesn’t wrestle,” Eiter said.
Fellow captain and No. 8 Burak has also been dominant over his career, providing stability and clinching plenty of wins for the Quakers during his tenure.
Burak still isn’t completely recovered from a bout with the flu, but is preparing for an individual title run as well.
The combination of Rappo and Burak starting and finishing matches for the Red and Blue will be sorely missed.
“They’re some of those guys you know you can count on,” Eiter said of Rappo and Burak. “Two solid kids with pretty darn good records like they have will be really hard to replace.”
But not all contributions to the team have been on the mat. While seniors Troy Hernandez and Mike Steltenkamp might not have accumulated the accolades their other two classmates have, they’ve still left their marks on the culture of Penn wrestling.
“Despite being hampered with injuries, [Troy’s] been a good leader and mentor for the younger guys at practice and [on] campus as well,” Eiter said.
“Then Mike Steltenkamp … is really what the program is about. He’s hung with the team every day for four years and is a top dog on the academic side.”
So while the Red and Blue won’t underestimate Princeton or Drexel, their main focus of the weekend will be getting ready for the postseason and giving their senior leaders much deserved respect.
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