Penn wrestling will be tested by one of its most vaunted opponents — and bitter rivals — this weekend.
The Quakers will take on No. 11 Lehigh in a dual meet this Saturday. The Mountain Hawks (5-1) are coming off of hard-fought victories this past weekend against Northwestern and Illinois, both of which are also ranked in the top 20 in the country.
Coach Alex Tirapelle is excited to experience the rivalry for the first time in his debut season at the helm of the team.
“I haven’t been to Lehigh to wrestle either as a competitor or as a coach but I’ve heard they have a great environment, a great atmosphere,” he said. “The thing with rivalries in any sport is that it’s fun.
“Both sides get up for the games. It’s something to get excited about. You want to have bragging rights for 365 days — until the next year at this time.”
The Quakers (1-1) might have to shuffle their lineup at the middleweights of 165, 174 and 184 pounds. Senior captain and All-American Lorenzo Thomas may be forced to miss the match after he suffered a leg injury in last Sunday’s matchups against Rider and Clarion.
Tirapelle downplayed Thomas’s injury, saying it was minor and his status was day-to-day.
“He was pretty fortunate,” Tirapelle added, implying the injury could have turned out to be worse.
Tirapelle isn’t yet sure who he would use to fill Thomas’s 184-pound slot should the veteran not be able to wrestle on Saturday.
“We have a couple [174 pound wrestlers],” Tirapelle said. “We’re a little light up there [in the 184-pound range] right now. We’ll have to slide some guys around. It’s just a matter, matchup wise, of who would be best to take over that role if [Lorenzo’s] not able to go.”
Whoever the Quakers put out in the 184-pound category will have to face Lehigh senior Nathaniel Brown , who is ranked No. 4 in the class, just behind Thomas at No. 3.
The Red and Blue will also receive some good news on the injury front, as sophomore 125-pounder Jeremy Schwartz will be back on the mat after missing last weekend’s action. In Schwartz’s absence, Penn was forced to forfeit the 125-pound class to both Clarion and Rider, as it could not field another wrestler at the appropriate weight.
Senior 149-pounder C.J. Cobb returned from a knee injury — which caused him to miss the Keystone Classic — to defeat Clarion senior Sam Sherlock and Rider freshman B.J. Clagon , both of whom are highly regarded wrestlers.
Despite not being at full strength, Cobb modified his strategy from his usual offense-heavy attack to a more cerebral, position-focused style to compensate for his tender knee.
“The chance that you feel your best during a match is really small,” Cobb said as he unwrapped his knee brace following Tuesday’s practice. “Even if you’re healthy, you might’ve had a hard week of school, or not gotten enough sleep, or anything like that. It’s part of wrestling.”
Cobb sees some bright matches ahead for this team as, despite the loss, it pulled out nail-biting wins over Rider’s three best wrestlers.
“It was really exciting and I think that’s a sign of things to come,” Cobb said. “I think [wins over top wrestlers] can keep happening.”
The Quakers will hope to carry that momentum into Saturday as they look to take down their old rival in their annual matchup against the Mountain Hawks.
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