For Penn wrestling, hopefully the stress of exams coupled with the joy of the holiday season will enable it to put the first half of the wrestling season behind it as the Quakers prepare for the Midlands Championships on Dec. 29 in Evanston, Ill.
The season began with promise. Senior 184-pounder Lorenzo Thomas returned after an All-American campaign alongside senior 149-pounder C.J. Cobb , a veteran returning after he sat out last season. With new coach Alex Tirapelle at the helm, the Red and Blue were ranked No. 24 in the nation in the preseason.
However, amidst numerous injuries, a 10th-place finish at the Keystone Classic and losses to No. 25 Rider and No. 10 Lehigh, the Red and Blue (1-2) have seen their national ranking fade.
“We’ve faced our fair share of adversary,” Tirapelle said. “We just don’t have a ton of depth so when your better guys are dinged up and can’t go, it makes a big difference.”
Yet if depth is the problem, the Red and Blue are about to find two solutions in fifth-year seniors Canaan Bethea and Brad Wukie . Both are former NCAA qualifiers and will likely return to the roster at 197 and 164 pounds, respectively.
The pair was forced to sit out the first semester due to eligibility reasons and will provide welcome relief to the ailing Quakers when they suit up for their first matches of the year at Midlands.
Despite its lackluster start, Penn has plenty of reasons to be confident that its luck will change.
Primarily, despite battling a nagging injury early in the year, Cobb has been a force of late. As a result, the 149-pounder has climbed to No. 9 in the country.
And considering that eight wrestlers qualify for All-American status at each weight class, Cobb is within striking distance of graduating on top come March.
But Tirapelle isn’t surprised by this resurgence.
“I don’t think it takes a genius to see that C.J. has a lot of talent,” Tirapelle said. “When he left, he had talent. He came back, he still had talent. It didn’t go away.”
Another bright spot has been the impressive campaign of Joe Heyob . The 174-pounder was the only wrestler other than Cobb to record a victory against Lehigh, a victory that improved his dual meet record to 2-0.
Heyob has proved that he can compete with the best, something that Tirapelle has noticed.
“He just needs to keep getting better on a day-to-day basis,” Tirapelle noted. “As talented as he is, I would say he still is learning a lot of wrestling so his upside is substantial.”
The early success of these two grapplers, in addition to sophomore 133-pounder and 2014 NCAA qualifier Caleb Richardson’s reliability, combine to provide hope for the Quakers as they prepare to regroup.
With Thomas likely back in the lineup coupled with the season debuts of Bethea and Wukie at Midlands, there’s reason to be optimistic.
“Wrestling is kind of like riding a bike,” Tirapelle said.
The Quakers haven’t forgot how to wrestle. They’ve faced setbacks but now they have the reinforcements to take on the nation’s top teams in the Windy City.
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