Imagine taking a year off from something that you do better than almost anyone in the country.
It’s highly likely that, after 12 months away from your craft, you’d be a little rusty when returning to action on a consistent basis. It’s safe to imagine most people having the same problem.
But if this season has taught Penn wrestling anything, it’s that Lorenzo Thomas isn’t like most people in that regard.
Thomas, a junior from Pittsburgh, Pa., has been a staple for the Quakers this season at 184 pounds, boasting a 17-7 record. Ranked No. 13 nationally in his weight class, Thomas is responsible for 30 of Penn’s points scored in dual meets, 20 percent of the team’s total output.
And while those numbers are impressive, what says more is that Thomas is producing at such a successful level after sitting out last season.
Despite not competing in 2012-13, Thomas started the 2013-14 season on a high note, winning the Keystone Classic on Nov. 24.
In his second season on the mats for the Quakers, Thomas hopes to turn this early success into a run at becoming an All-American, an honor that requires a top-eight national ranking at the end of the season, as well as an EIWA Conference champion.
“I wrestled with a lot of the top guys,” Thomas said. “If I can get better at everything I need to work on, I think I can achieve my goal of being All-American.”
After his early season success and victory at the Keystone Classic, Thomas’ All-American goal seemed well within reach.
Lately, though, Thomas has seen tough competition from some of the best wrestlers in the country. In matches against wrestlers ranked in the top 20, Thomas is 0-5 this year.
However, those numbers don’t reflect just how close those matches have been.
In both of Penn’s matches over winter break, on Jan. 1-2 and 11, respectively, Thomas fell to No. 5 Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota, 6-3, and Nebraska’s No. 13 T.J. Dudley, 9-6. In both matches, Thomas led early before falling in takedowns in the third period.
This trend continued over the weekend during the Red and the Blue’s dual against Ivy-heavyweight Cornell. The Quakers -1-32 loss featured yet another close match for Thomas, this time against No. 2 Gabe Dean.
“My strategy was that I knew I couldn’t stay on bottom because he would have the upper hand,” Thomas said. “He is really good at top and going into the match I was trying to keep up.”
Thomas will see Dean again at the EIWA Conference Championships at the Palestra on March 8-9. If Thomas hopes to achieve his goal of finishing tops in his weight-class in the conference tournament, he will need to work on getting the upper hand in matches, especially late in bouts.
“I need to work on neutrals and some more of my takedowns,” Thomas admitted. “I haven’t been doing too well in that category lately.”
Despite Thomas’ shortcomings, the former Ivy League Rookie of the Year isn’t letting his record against fellow standout wrestlers discourage him. Instead, he’s looking forward to the next opportunity for him to improve his chances at becoming an All-American.
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