Are you ready to rumble?
The Red and Blue’s wrestling season is about to reach critical mass with the approaching EIWA Conference Championships this weekend.
The Quakers, who are led by six All-Ivy grapplers, are in a strong position to finish near the top of the heap Saturday in Bethlehem, Pa., something many believed to be unfathomable a few months ago. But this impressive group never lost confidence.
While fifth-ranked Cornell may be out of reach, Lehigh is not indestructible, and Penn will be looking to knock off the Mountain Hawks in front of their hometown faithful.
The biggest advantage in Penn’s favor is unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection C.J. Cobb. The 149-pound senior, who has only three blemishes to his name this year, continues to build steam heading into the season’s final stretch.
Joining Cobb as an All-Ivy first-teamer is sophomore phenom Caleb Richardson at 133 pounds. The 2014 NCAA qualifier has continually proven that last year’s appearance in the season’s culminating tournament was no fluke.
Richardson, who has hovered around the bottom of the rankings all season, returns to the Lehigh Valley with a chip on his shoulder.
The last time he made the trip, he narrowly fell to eighth-ranked Mason Beckman, 3-2. That, coupled with his heartbreaking loss two weeks ago to 14th-ranked Kevin Devoy of Drexel, have Richardson gunning for a strong performance to show the depth of the Ivy League.
For the first time in his career at Penn, Richardson will be entering a high-profile tournament with a target on his back. However, it will be important for the sophomore to keep his eyes on Beckman and Devoy if he wants to capture a title.
Another grappler to watch will be star senior Lorenzo Thomas. The 184-pounder slid into the All-Ivy selections as an honorable mention.
With each successive season, Thomas has climbed further into the national spotlight. A seventh-place finish at EIWAs his freshman year followed by an All-American nod his junior year, coupled with his current No. 5 ranking, have been impressive.
However, Thomas has fallen in relation to his fellow Ivy League foes, dropping from a unanimous first team selection in his rookie season. Much of this is due to the development of Cornell’s Ivy Wrestler of the Year Gabe Dean.
Dean will again be Thomas’ biggest hurdle to conquer in his quest for an elusive EIWA title. In January, Thomas forced the Big Red star to overtime before he was defeated by sudden victory. It will be interesting to see how the two stack up on the biggest stage either has appeared on so far this year.
Of course, Penn had three other All-Ivy selections. Junior Brooks Martino and senior Brad Wukie filed in with second-team honors at 157- and 174-pounds respectively. Senior Jeff Canfora rounded out the squad with an honorable mention at 141 pounds.
Martino, who battled injuries last season, has been the vocal leader of the team and as a captain has proven his worth to the team beyond his performance on the mat. Still, he has grown tenfold as a wrestler this year, and his 8-2 record against EIWA opponents — coupled with his team leading 3:0 pin ratio — is a talking point heading into the tournament.
For all three wrestlers, a strong performance at EIWAs could be the difference between making the trip to St. Louis for the NCAA Tournament or staying home.
Heading into their first major tournament as a strong healthy team, the Quakers are looking to prove that they deserve their national ranking and are poised to create havoc as a potential heavyweight this weekend.
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