A ll year long, we listened to the theme of how youth, inexperience and a slew of injuries resulted in a roller coaster 2013-14 season for Penn wrestling.
The end result was equally bittersweet, with junior Lorenzo Thomas (184 pounds) climbing within a few feet of the top thanks to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships and an All-American nomination.
Meanwhile, the Quakers’ other three NCAA qualifiers failed to win a bout in the tournament. The Red and Blue were at a clear disadvantage from the start, though, having sent a contingent of grapplers with no prior national tournament experience for the first time in more than two decades.
No matter what, coach Rob Eiter has always tried to keep his troops motivated. But looking forward, everyone on the team should — and has — realized that it’s time to step up.
“They’re all saying the right thing right now, they recognize the few things that went on this year that we need to correct, and the fact that they recognized it themselves and brought it up to me says a lot,” Eiter said. “Those guys, they want to win, and they’re ready to make that dedication this summer to get back on the winning track.”
Wrestling is an individual sport, but team mentality still makes a huge difference, and clearly Penn’s wrestlers suffered from a lack of senior leadership at times this year. But that should change, as key men like Thomas, sophomore 165-pounder Casey Kent and senior 174-pounder Brad Wukie — who has another year of eligibility — look forward to guiding the Quakers to victory.
“That’s what I’m excited about,” Eiter said. “We have the older crew a little bit, and I think they are ready and willing to, all of them, lead in their own special way.”
Thomas, a more reserved person by nature, will have to translate his increased maturity into a leadership role — all of that while gunning for a NCAA title that he proved is within reach.
“Whether he likes it or not, he’s in that role now, and I think he’s ready to embrace that role. He realizes it, and he’s excited to have a little bit more responsibility on him,” Eiter said. “The strength — that’s one area where we all know he needs to improve on and he needs to make some gains this summer in that.
“Lorenzo’s a competitor, and this year he showed it.”
Kent’s main mission will be to prove that he can repeat his regular season success in the conference and national tournaments. In terms of leadership, the Pennsylvania native seems to be on the right track already.
“Casey Kent will continue to be a strong leader — he’s kind of more a ‘leadership by example’ type kid,” Eiter said. “But I talked to him about becoming more vocal and I think he feels comfortable now moving forward.”
There were many highs in the Quakers’ roller coaster ride this year. Wukie’s inspirational performance at the EIWAs and sophomore Ray Bethea’s (157) 19-9 season come to mind along with Jeff Canfora’s strong performance while going up a weightclass to 141 pounds.
But there were also many lows, including a 32-(-1) thrashing at the hands of Ivy League archrival Cornell that needs to be quickly forgotten.
For next year to be less of a rollercoaster, the Red and Blue will also need to take advantage of intense competition for starting spots in the middle weights,and work in a solid batch of eight new recruits, who should thrive under the mentorship of Eiter’s “older crew.”
“We are really excited about the kids who are going to be freshmen for us next year,” Eiter said. “And not only from just the talent portion of it, but also from the personality side of it.”
Talent is never good enough on its own — you also need to have the right mentality.
Now it’s time for these gifted Quakers to confirm that they do.