Ask any wrestler, and he’ll tell you nothing is more important than being the champion.
But even without an individual winner at this year’s edition of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, Penn wrestling is still feeling pretty good about its performance.
“Obviously some guys are pretty disappointed in their results but it was a heck of a tournament,” coach Rob Eiter said. “It’s not that they didn’t fight, it’s just that we came up on the short end with some of the guys and others did great.
“Brad Wukie came pretty much out of nowhere and he’s a finalist. Lorenzo Thomas - that’s the best I’ve seen him wrestle all year.”
Wukie, a senior who entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed in the 174-pound weightclass, won three in a row over the course of two days, including a 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Brian Harvey of Army in the semifinals. This allowed him to secure an automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Championships, which will take place in two weeks at Oklahoma City.
In his final bout, Wukie faced Navy’s No. 3 seed Mathew Miller, who is ranked No. 14 in the nation. Miller quickly won the bout with a fall at 2:46, but Wukie is confident that he can get over that mishap and perform better at NCAAs.
“If I’m on top of my game, I don’t think anybody can wrestle me,” Wukie said.
The finals matchup at 184 pounds featured a much-anticipated rematch between Thomas, the No. 2 seed and No. 12 wrestler at the weightclass in the nation, and No. 3 Gabe Dean of Cornell, the No. 1 seed. Earlier this year, Dean defeated Thomas, 7-5, at a dual meet between the Big Red and the Red and Blue.
This time around, Dean once again emerged victorious by a two-point margin, 3-1. The key moment of the bout was a controversial call by the referee to award a takedown to Dean in the middle of the second period - just moments after Thomas came close to taking Dean down himself.
“He shot and was trying to get to the double, I had the whizzer in but the ref called two,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it was two but it doesn’t matter, it’s behind us now.”
“When the official awarded two points for a takedown, technically it wasn’t a takedown. As wrestling continued and the Cornell kid threw his leg on the other side - that was a takedown,” Eiter explained. “The [new protest rule] is the position that you protest, if you win that protest, everything after that stops, and I was protesting when the two points were awarded because everybody in the gym saw [the ref] throw up two before the leg was in.”
However, Eiter doesn’t believe the refereeing is the sole reason why Thomas ultimately fell short.
“Lorenzo had some opportunities to score and he didn’t, the Cornell kid was definitely more aggressive in that match so we got to work on that,” Eiter said.
Wukie and Thomas will be joined at the NCAAs by Casey Kent, who entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the 165-pound weightclass and gained an automatic bid to the national tournament by virtue of his fourth place finish.
The season is not yet over for Penn’s other wrestlers, who could still potentially go to the NCAAs with an at-large bid.
The Quakers know some things will have to change for them to come back victorious from the Sooner State.
“I think we need to raise our intensity a little bit, obviously yesterday we had a really slow start in the morning and that hurt,” Eiter said. “You can’t come out and ease into the tournament because one loss puts you in a very difficult position to come back.”
There can only be one champion, so it's now or never for Wukie and his teammates to be on top of their game.