In their last big test before the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships in March, the Quakers put on a show Saturday against Ivy League foes Harvard and Brown.
The Crimson (4-5, 1-2 Ivy) drove the No. 22 Red and Blue (7-3, 2-1) to the edge in many bouts, but the latter avenged last year’s 23-19 loss by winning eight out of 10 bouts to secure a 24-6 victory at the Palestra.
“We were fired up,” junior Canaan Bethea (184 pounds) said. “We came out here wanting to let them know that it’s a tough sport and we’re not willing to give up anything and we want to win more than they do.”
In perhaps the most suspense-filled match of the day, Bethea defeated Harvard’s Josh Popple, 4-2, with a takedown in the second period of sudden victory. Penn’s grappler took revenge — a recurring theme for the Quakers on Saturday — after losing by technical fall to Popple earlier this year at the Binghamton Open.
“[Bethea] could have been a little bit more aggressive on his feet, because that’s where we knew we were going to win the match,” coach Rob Eiter said. “You just can’t keep it that close with a kid that’s really good on top, you got to separate the score a little bit and make him feel more urgency.”
The Quakers started the day 6-0 after No. 20 Mark Rappo scored a 6-3 victory over Jeffrey Ott at 125 pounds, followed by sophomore Jeff Canfora’s 8-5 win against Shay Warren at 133.
The dual’s most awaited bout came next, as No. 13 Steven Keith (141) of Harvard defeated No. 9 C.J. Cobb, 11-4. Keith dominated the first period, accumulating four points and almost three minutes of riding time, never looking back. The Crimson hold a 4-1 edge over Cobb in the series, and the two will rekindle their rivalry at next month’s EIWA Championships.
“One of the strategies for the Harvard team that was real smart is to get that first takedown and it really forced the match into their hands,” Eiter said. “C.J. didn’t have the same pop … at the end of the match he was scoring and attacking; and we’re trying to get him do that right away — not when you’re in a hole and are playing catch-up.”
Midway through the dual, the Quakers were only up 9-6, but the winds quickly turned in their favor, as they took home the remaining five bouts on their way to victory.
First, at 165 pounds, the Quakers’ Casey Kent defeated fellow true freshman Devon Gobbo, 7-5, reversing the situation after falling behind 4-0 early on.
“I was [really] happy with Casey’s match just because he’s [an] 18-year-old freshman, down four to nothing, and just stuck with the game plan, stuck with what he did well,” Eiter said. “Casey just plugged it away — there was plenty of time left and he didn’t force anything.”
Penn sophomore Ian Korb (174) then took revenge over Cameron Croy — who had defeated him twice in the past — with a 2-0 victory, thanks to an escape and riding time.
“Korb’s had a little bit of a rollercoaster season … and beating the kid that had beaten him earlier in the year is important for Ian,” Eiter said. “It’s important because that weightclass in our class is wide open; there isn’t one guy that’s really separated himself from the pack.”
Later in the day, the Quakers were victorious in all but one match against the Bears, easily winning the dual, 35-4.
And for a team that has one precise goal in mind, namely the NCAA Championships at Des Moines, Iowa from March 21-23, the recent successes make the future look bright. But to Bethea, the season is all about improving.
“I’m slowly getting better and better and that’s the brightest thing about it,” he said. “As I continue to go on throughout the season, I’m seeing myself execute my moves a little better.”