A trip to Ithaca is never pleasant this time of year due to its lack of cellphone service and subarctic conditions.
But a trip to the home of the Big Red can easily get a whole lot worse with a matchup against Cornell’s sixth-ranked wrestling team just over the bleak horizon.
On Saturday, Penn will send its grapplers north for the daunting task of taking on the cream of the Ivy League crop in its first league dual meet of the season.
While it would take a miracle for the Quakers (3-3) to pull off the upset, one match will demand the most attention Saturday afternoon, regardless, of the final team scores.
The 184-pound bout will feature two of the nation’s finest wrestlers: Penn senior Lorenzo Thomas and Cornell sophomore Gabe Dean. The pair of 2014 All-Americans both possess top-five rankings.
The duo currently makes up two-thirds of Ancient Eight wrestlers ranked in the top-five of their weight class. It is due to this caveat that the match will be getting serious attention from Ivy League and collegiate wrestling fans alike.
The Red and Blue faithful will have to hope that Saturday’s clash of titans will be reminiscent of the matches they had during the 2012-2013 season. In that season, Thomas won all three meetings, although both wrestled unaffiliated with a team.
To do so, however, Thomas — who lost all three matches against his rival last season — will have to flip the script on the elusive Dean.
Despite the implications the 184-pound bout holds for EIWA and NCAA championship seeding, it would be foolish for the Quakers to only focus on the day’s marquee matchup.
This meet holds its own championship implications for both teams as well. For the last 25 years, the winner of the Penn-Cornell dual has gone on to capture the Ivy League team title at the end of the season. It would be no surprise if the same holds true this season.
While the Red and Blue have been somewhat flat in their opportunities to solidify themselves as a top team in the nation, there is little doubt that outside of Cornell (8-1), they possess one of the most balanced and solid rosters in the conference. What is bound to bolster their lineup this semester is their newfound depth.
With the return of former NCAA qualifiers seniors Canaan Bethea and Brad Wukie, as well as the emergence of freshman Joe Heyob, the Quakers are deeper at the heavier weight classes, a luxury they didn’t have during the first half of the season. Additionally, the Quakers no longer have to forfeit the 125-pound bouts due to sophomore Jeremy Schwartz’s return from injury.
Alex Tirapelle will take his first trip Cornell as Penn’s head coach and will likely face the most hostile environment thus far in his brief tenure guiding the Red and Blue.
Even though the dual meet is in Cornell’s 4,473-seat basketball arena, it would be a pretty safe bet to assume that it will be packed Saturday for the rivalry match.
With that in mind, the chances of the Red and Blue pulling off the upset are steep, although maybe not quite as steep as the frozen-over gorges that they will cross in upstate New York this weekend.
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