It was a big weekend for closers in New York, with Mariano Rivera returning to the mound for the Yankees and the Penn men’s wrestling team winning three straight bouts to secure an important Ivy League victory over Columbia.
The No. 23 Quakers (8-3, 3-1 Ivy) came out swinging and squandered any hope for a Lions (5-7, 1-2) comeback, despite some struggles in the middle weights.
At 125 pounds, No. 20 Mark Rappo provided the strong start that the Red and Blue needed, dominating Penn Gottfried, 16-5, and earning a bonus point with the major decision.
Sophomore Jeff Canfora (133 pounds) followed up with a decisive win himself, controlling throughout and winning 8-2 over Matt Bystol. Then just as Rappo did, sophomore No. 11 C.J. Cobb earned a bonus point at 141 pounds, winning 19-8.
The win improved Rappo’s personal record to 11-1 in dual meets this year. His ability to be the catalyst for the team at the beginning of contests is something coach Rob Eiter is appreciative of.
“We’re always looking to score those bonus points so it definitely helped to set the tone,” Eiter said. “That’s Mark’s responsibility as a senior captain and C.J.’s as well. Even though he’s young, everyone looks to C.J. to get wins.”
Although both Rappo and Cobb earned bonus points, their paths to earning them could not have been more different. Rappo dominated from start to finish, taking down his opponent seven different times, while Cobb had to overcome an early takedown by his Columbia counterpart and get points in the final 10 seconds to earn Penn the extra point.
The combination of Rappo, Canfora and Cobb getting the Red and Blue off to an 11-0 start proved to be incredibly important, as Penn saw their lead begin to slip away in the middle of the dual. Back-to-back losses at 149 and 157, as well as a loss at 174 decreased the Quakers’ lead to 14-9, leaving the match very much in jeopardy heading into the final three bouts.
Adding to the uncertainty of the outcome was the condition of No. 9 Micah Burak, who spent the week wrestling the flu rather than teammates.
“He wasn’t feeling well and the Columbia kid is pretty talented,” Eiter said. “But I asked him to wrestle because the team score was still in jeopardy and he wants to be an All-American national champion.”
“I just have been praying a lot that God would give me strength to wrestle strong,” Burak said. “All I wanted was the team go get the win.”
Though it wasn’t pretty and Burak was taken down at the beginning of the bout, the returning All-American overcame the odds to hold on and win 4-3, extending the Penn lead to 20-9 — thus ensuring a team victory.
“I was real happy with [Micah’s] attitude and being able to come out on top,” Eiter said. “As long as you get your hand raised that’s all that matters.”
And that’s just what Burak and the rest of the Quakers did, getting their hands raised in seven of the 10 bouts en route to a decisive 23-9 victory.
The Red and Blue will finish off their regular season next weekend as they host Princeton and Drexel at the Palestra.
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