The big day has finally arrived for Penn wrestling.
This weekend, the Quakers will compete in the 2014 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships at home in the Palestra. This year’s tournament will be the biggest yet, with 18 teams in the mix and 47 spots at the NCAA Championships up for grabs.
Despite an uneven season so far, Penn has been peaking recently, winning three straight duals over Columbia, Princeton and Drexel. The Quakers will look to take advantage of being under the radar to make a big showing in front of their home crowd.
“I think the guys are in a really good physical and mental state right now, we’ve had some really good workouts and they’re pretty excited,” coach Rob Eiter said. “I expect them to go out and wrestle their butts off. If they give everything they’ve got I think we’ll do pretty well.”
The favorites for the Red and Blue will be sophomores Casey Kent (165 pounds) and Lorenzo Thomas (184) , who are ranked No. 19 and No. 10 at their respective weightclasses. In order to conquer the EIWA crown, both of them might have to avenge losses from earlier this year to the probable No. 1 seeds.
Cornell’s Dylan Palacio, ranked 14th in the nation, defeated Kent twice this season, 4-1 and 4-2. Meanwhile, the last person to defeat Thomas was No. 3 Gabe Dean - also of Cornell - by the score of 7-5.
“Fortunately for both Lorenzo and Casey, they’ve already wrestled the guys that are seeded number one,” Eiter said. “If they go in there and just wrestle as well as we know they can - and they can - there’s nobody that’s heads and above somebody else right now in those two weightclasses.”
“I just need to wrestle smart against [Dean]. The last time it was close score-wise, but he kind of controlled the match for the most part,” Thomas added. “I need to wrestle my match and not let him do what he wants to do.”
Beyond the obvious duo, Eiter thinks most grapplers on the Red and Blue’s talented roster have a reasonable shot at pulling off what he called “an upset just on paper.” Amongst them are junior Jeff Canfora (141) and the freshman pair Frank Mattiace (197) and Caleb Richardson (125).
“I think Jeff and Frank are probably the two worst draws you can have ... they definitely have the potential to beat anybody,” Eiter said. “Especially Frank’s weightclass is pretty wide open, everybody’s kind of beaten everybody, so that’s going to be very interesting.
“Caleb’s going to get overlooked and he has a ton of talent. His skill set is super high so he easily could be in the finals for us.”
For Kent, the key to success is simple.
“I [have] just got to wrestle like I’ve been wrestling the whole season, not worry about what happens and just go out there.”