In the midst of the disappointment after this year’s NCAA Championships, the Penn wrestling team is looking forward to better horizons.
One year after senior Micah Burak finished seventh at 197 pounds to become Penn’s 26th All-American, and only one week after the same Burak captured the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) title, the Quakers came back empty-handed from Des Moines, Iowa.
Only half of the Red and Blue’s six-man crew made it to day two, and only Burak was still in the run for a podium spot on Saturday.
“I think they were taken aback a little bit by the intensity that was here — for each kid, your first match is your last match,” coach Rob Eiter said. “But I felt like we reached our goal as a team, we gave it our best shot.”
Entering the field as the No. 8 seed, Burak launched himself into the quarterfinals with a 3-2 double overtime victory over No. 9 Jake Meredith of Arizona State.
But the senior couldn’t overcome his next opponent, No. 1 Dustin Kilgore of Kent State — who hadn’t lost a single bout since Burak defeated him on Dec. 20, 2010 — as Kilgore quickly took a 5-0 lead and never looked back, winning, 7-0.
Burak, who with one more win could still have garnered All-American honors, then fell to No. 6 Kyven Gadson of Iowa State, 4-3, despite holding a 3-1 lead late into the third period.
The only other of Penn’s grapplers with previous NCAAs experience, senior Mark Rappo (125 pounds), left the tournament early after losing to Minnesota’s David Thorn by fall at the 1:19 mark in the consolation first round. Rappo wrapped up his career with an 80-36 record and a second place finish at this year’s EIWA Championships.
Sophomore C.J. Cobb (141), the Quakers’ other seeded wrestler at No. 10, lost in the second round to No. 7 Mark Ballwegok of Iowa, 3-2, before bouncing back with a 6-1 victory over Wyoming’s McCade Ford. But Cobb lost the subsequent round to Northern Iowa’s Joey Lazor, 15-2.
For the younger members of the team such as Cobb and fellow qualifiers Ian Korb (174), Canaan Bethea (184) and Steven Graziano (285), Eiter saw the experience as something positive that they could learn from for the future.
“[It’s good] to really take what they experienced here and use it as a motivator and learning tool to move forward — you can only get better from something like this,” Eiter said. “It gives you that extra push to raise your level day in and day out in the practice room.
“They were here for a reason, they had a great season for us, they proved a lot and were definitely not happy with their performance — and that’s a good thing.”
Bethea and Graziano, both juniors, exited early as they both lost their only two matches. Korb, like fellow sophomore Cobb, made it to the consolation third round, where he lost to Matt Mougin — also of Northern Iowa — by the final score of 8-3.
Despite the losses, Eiter remains positive about what his team has done so far this year and about what is yet to come for the program.
“Even though this is the end of it all right here, we still have some neat things that we accomplished this year,” he said.
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