With the most important challenge of the year looming on the horizon, sometimes all a team needs is a little morale boost.
That’s exactly what Penn wrestling got this weekend, going on the road to defeat rivals Princeton and Drexel, 22-9 and 20-10, respectively.
After securing a second place Ivy finish and the first-ever Abner’s Cheesesteak Trophy as a result of beating Drexel, the focus has now quickly shifted to the upcoming Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championship for the Quakers (8-6, 7-4 EIWA).
“We had a little bit of a rollercoaster season but that doesn’t matter anymore,” coach Rob Eiter said. “It’s time to recover a little bit. We’ll take a couple of days off here and then come back focused and ready to go.”
The Tigers (11-4, 10-3), who’ve so far enjoyed one of their best seasons in decades, kept the bout with Penn close at first with victories at 133 and 149 pounds. But Princeton ultimately couldn’t overcome the Red and Blue - its 22nd consecutive loss to the Quakers.
Like Princeton, the Dragons (7-15, 1-6) won at 133, 149 and 197 pounds. Drexel put up a better fight compared to last year’s bout against Penn, when the Quakers shut out its cross-town rival, 37-0.
“Teams like [Drexel] and Princeton - this is a big match for them, they come after us with a little bit more of vigor than some other teams would,” Eiter said. “I think the guys responded well, this is a good test for them to perform under pressure.”
Key contributors to Penn’s success were freshman Caleb Richardson and senior Brad Wukie , who both scored big victories on the day in the 125- and 174-pound weightclasses, respectively.
Richardson gave the Red and Blue an early lead in both bouts on Saturday. The rookie first defeated Princeton’s Ryan Cash by major decision, 14-6, before going on to beat Drexel’s Tanner Shoap , 8-3.
With Richardson’s attention now turned to preparing for the conference and national championships, it seems that the grappler is peaking just at the right moment.
“I love wrestling in big tournaments, under the big lights, that’s what we do it for,” Richardson said. “Right now we’re going to taper off, pick up the intensity and [try to] stay healthy.
“I put in a lot of work, so just a couple of tweaks and I’ll be ready to go.”
Wukie, who was absent for over a month due to injury earlier in the season, proved once again that he is back to top shape with wins against the Tigers’ Ryan Callahan and the Dragons’ Kevin Matyas . The final scores were 6-4 and 6-3, respectively.
The senior is confident in his team’s ability to keep the momentum going.
“Going forward we just have to put our head down and go as hard as we can,” Wukie said. “Anybody can have a great conference tournament and qualify for NCAAs - starting now is the time to shine.”
Eiter echoed Wukie’s statement.
“It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to it.”