Powers | Penn wrestling ready for the big show at EIWA championships

· March 5, 2014, 8:08 pm   ·  Updated March 6, 2014, 7:10 pm

The journey wasn’t always pretty, but the Quakers have finally made it to the biggest stage of the season: the EIWA Championships.

While the Red and Blue are not loaded with the firepower of the last several years, the blue-collar squad should contend seriously at multiple weight classes.

Taking a quick look back, Penn adapted a looser, back-to-basics approach down the stretch of the season that seemed to pay off, as the team swept its final three duals by double digits.

Look for the Quakers to carry that success into the weekend and submit a strong performance on their home mats.

The bar will be set high for the Quakers’ top two wrestlers, junior Lorenzo Thomas (184 pounds) and sophomore Casey Kent (165). The two All-Ivy honorees have experience against the toughest competitors in their respective classes, and as Penn coach Rob Eiter said, “there’s no reason why they can’t win it.” In order for that to happen, both grapplers will likely need to exact revenge on a Cornell foe.

Despite leading the Quakers with 12 wins against EIWA competition, Thomas posted an underwhelming 1-5 record against Top 20 opponents, which is cause for concern heading into EIWAs. That doesn’t mean that Thomas doesn’t have more going for him than just about anyone on this Penn squad, however.

Thomas has been the Quakers’ top performer in the two biggest tournaments of the season, grabbing the title at the Keystone Classic and finishing sixth at the Southern Scuffle.

To take the EIWA championship at 184 pounds, he will likely have to go through Cornell freshman force Gabe Dean, who placed first at the Southern scuffle, and is 31-2 on the season. The two foes have only battled once, with the result a 7-5 decision in Dean’s favor.

Expect Thomas and Dean to square off in the title match, one that will be sure to please. While Dean has been more impressive this season, Thomas has proven he can go toe-to-toe with the Big Red phenom. Furthermore, Thomas has prior EIWA tournament experience, a home-mat advantage, and the revenge factor going for him.

In contrast to Thomas, Kent has handled ranked competition better than anyone in the Red and Blue this year, having posted a 4-4 record against Top 20 opponents.

The 165-pound title is up for grabs among a select few wrestlers, and Kent is one of them. If he stays strong through the duration of his matches and wrestles with the command he has demonstrated recently, don’t be surprised if he’s the last grappler standing at 165 pounds.

Penn’s talented freshman have been a big part of this year’s squad, and will look to make statements at the EIWA’s this weekend.

125-pound freshman Caleb Richardson, who has lost some rhythm in the last month, will look to tap the potential he displayed earlier in the season with an eighth-place finish at the Southern Scuffle. Richardson has struggled against the top talent in his bracket, so don’t expect a championship for the freshman just yet. However, do expect Richardson to submit some of the most exciting performances of the day and nab one of the six available NCAA bids at 125 pounds.

Similar to Richardson, 197-pound freshman Frank Mattiace will look to gather himself after a difficult stretch and catch fire over the weekend. Mattiace submitted a strong fourth-place finish at the Keystone Classic earlier this season and should easily nab one of the seven NCAA bids up for grabs.  However, don’t be surprised if he goes deeper than expected in what Eiter termed a “wide open,” 197-pound class.

Jeff Canfora , a 141-pound junior, is the final wrestler to look out for this weekend. An All-Ivy selection at 133 pounds last season, he’s one of Penn’s most dangerous wrestlers: Eiter called him one of the toughest draws on the team. Look for Canfora to replicate his fourth place finish last season in a new (and difficult) weightclass , and earn an NCAA bid.

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