Much like at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships two weeks ago, Penn wrestling saw mixed results at the NCAA Championships this weekend.
With three automatic qualifiers and two at-large bid recipients, the Quakers took five grapplers to St. Louis, finishing in 37th place overall in the tournament with 6.5 team points.
“Obviously, we’re not satisfied with the performance,” coach Alex Tirapelle said. “You’ve got to come into this tournament with high expectations, with confidence, and we didn’t meet those [expectations]. Looking back on it as a team, though, guys wrestled hard. They competed well, they prepared the right way.
“We wanted more, but unfortunately, we just came up a little short.”
Junior Lorenzo Thomas, ranked No. 10 in the 184-pound weight class, looked to repeat his All-American performance from 2014 and improve upon his sixth-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships. Those hopes were dashed, however, when he was defeated by Missouri redshirt freshman Willie Miklus in the first round after suffering a fall at 2:15.
Thomas rebounded to reel off victories in the first and second rounds of the consolation bracket, including a powerful 10-2 win over Michigan sophomore Domenic Abounader, ranked No. 8 in the class. However, Thomas fell, 17-5, to sixteenth-ranked Nebraska sophomore Timothy Dudley after failing to connect on any big moves in the match.
“I thought he was just a little off,” Tirapelle said of Thomas. “He just had an off day, and when you have an off day, it’s pretty hard to be successful.”
Sophomore 133-pound wrestler Caleb Richardson, who entered the tournament unranked, began the tournament with an upset victory over Edinboro senior A.J. Schopp. Richardson held a tight 2-1 lead for much of the match before sealing the victory with a takedown of the ninth-ranked Schopp with 23 seconds left.
Richardson then faced two familiar opponents — Drexel redshirt freshman Kevin Devoy, ranked eighth in the weight class, and Lehigh junior Mason Beckman, ranked tenth.
Richardson, who lost to both grapplers in Penn’s dual meets against Drexel and Lehigh, respectively, again fell to his EIWA rivals. Both of the matches at the tournament ended in sudden victory, with Richardson emerging each time as the 3-1 loser.
Junior 149-pounder C.J. Cobb also faced familiar foes over the course of the weekend. After defeating Kent State sophomore Mike DePalma, Cobb took down Iowa redshirt freshman Brandon Sorensen in a thrilling victory over the No. 4-ranked wrestler to move onto the quarterfinals.
He then took the mat against Cornell senior Chris Villalonga. Cobb, who had upset Villalonga in Penn’s dual meet against Cornell in January, took the 4-1 loss this time. Cobb then lost to Rider redshirt freshman Bryant Clagon — whom Cobb had also previously defeated this season — in the Round of 12.
Senior 197-pounder Canaan Bethea, suiting up for his final time in the Red and Blue, began the tournament against a tough opponent in Duke redshirt junior Conner Hartmann. But after losing 8-1, Bethea battled his way back in the consolation rounds, winning three consecutive matches to reach the Round of 12 before losing to Iowa’s sixth-ranked junior Nathan Burak.
“[Canaan] has progressed and made strides so quickly over the past four to six weeks especially,” Tirapelle said. “He got bumped out in the Round of 12, but he was right there. He could’ve been an All-American, and he beat some very good kids.
“I told him already that he should hold his head high and be very proud of what he’s been able to do.”
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