Despite split results, Penn wrestling should be able to move forward with confidence after a strong weekend.
The Red and Blue took a trip north to upstate New York to face vaunted opponent and historic rival Cornell on Saturday and EIWA opponent Binghamton on Sunday, splitting the two matches. No. 6 Cornell (10-1) has not lost against an EIWA team since 2010-11 and was last beaten by an Ivy League opponent in 2002.
Despite the tall task at hand, the Quakers (4-4) began the meet with an intensity that carried them to a 9-8 lead at halftime. Sophomore Caleb Richardson and senior Jeff Canfora had already scored victories in the 133 and 141-pound weight classes, respectively, when No. 14-ranked C.J. Cobb took the mat to face No. 7-ranked Chris Villalonga in the 149-pound bout.
While Cobb only had two takedowns in the entire match, it was all he needed to finish off Villalonga in the sudden-victory round.
“I think he was able to wrestle his best,” coach Alex Tirapelle said of Cobb. “C.J. controlled the time, controlled the scoring, took him down twice and that was the match.”
However, the match would soon turn south as the Quakers suffered through four hard-fought losses to begin the second half.
Junior 165-pounder Ray Bethea was taken down by sophomore Dylan Palacio for the win by fall. Senior Brad Wukie lost to junior Duke Pickett in the 174-pound class by a score of 7-5 after Pickett took Wukie down for a sudden victory.
And then came the matchup everybody was waiting for.
Penn senior Lorenzo Thomas and Cornell sophomore Gabe Dean faced off in one of the Ivy League’s most anticipated contests. Thomas, ranked No. 5 in the 184-pound class, was looking to knock off his No. 1-ranked opponent after Dean defeated him in the consolation semifinals at the NCAA Championships last year.
Thomas fought hard, answering an early escape of Dean’s with an escape of his own in the third period to tie up the match at 1-1. However, Dean would take Thomas down fifteen seconds into the sudden victory round for the 3-1 victory.
Senior 197-pounder Canaan Bethea looked strong in his match against senior No. 14-ranked Jace Bennett but was edged by a score of 3-2. Penn freshman heavyweight Patrik Garren lost to Cornell senior Jacob Aiken-Phillips to end the meet.
“I think in the moment, immediately, I would say it’s frustrating and disappointing because you know you’re right there and you can win those matches,” Tirapelle said of the close losses.
“But when you step back from it, and take a couple of deep breaths, calm down, look back at the match, yeah, we accomplished a lot. We’ve got something to build on moving forward.”
In addition, the Quakers’ 26-9 loss this year is markedly better than the 32-1 beating that the Big Red inflicted upon last year’s team.
The Quakers completed their New York road trip with an easy 26-10 win against Binghamton (5-7) on Sunday. Penn won seven of the ten matchups on the day, with highlights including Richardson’s fall over freshman Joe Nelson and Cobb’s 12-0 thrashing of freshman Nick Tighe.
Tirapelle still sees a lot of room for improvement in his grapplers. He was careful with his words when asked whether the past two weekends’ results mean the team is hitting its stride.
“I think so,” he said. “It’s difficult to say. We split two matches, we competed well, but we didn’t compete our best. We’ve got to continue to improve our performance each time out. We want to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”
With dual meets against Harvard and Brown in two weeks, Penn will hope to turn that cautious optimism into a wave of victories as it enters the season’s home stretch.
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