A new sport is prepared to take ownership of the storied Cathedral of College Basketball.
On Sunday, Penn wrestling will play host to 12 other Division I teams in this season’s edition of the Keystone Classic. The tournament, which will feature 10 weight classes, figures to be incredibly competitive, as four visiting teams finished in the top 30 at last year’s NCAA Championships.
Many stars of collegiate wrestling will filter through the Palestra’s doors on Sunday, hoping to cement their status in the upper echelon of the nation’s grapplers. The 149-pound division stands out, as defending Big 10 champion and former NCAA national champion Jason Tsirtsis will wrestle for Northwestern. Rider’s B.J. Clagon, ranked No. 4 nationally by Intermat, and Drexel’s seventh-ranked Matt Cimato, will also take to the mats in the division.
Penn, however, will not be outmatched by this talented group. The Quakers boast a 149-pound star of their own in senior C.J Cobb, who holds Intermat’s No. 8 ranking. Cobb will be wrestling after a highly successful first meet, where he claimed first place at the Bearcat Open at Binghamton, N.Y. He recorded three pins on his way to the podium, more than he had all of last season.
Despite his early triumphs, Cobb is aware of both the strength of Sunday’s competition and of what he needs to do to emerge victorious at the tournament.
“I’ve got to make sure I do everything right. I’ve got to be crisp,” Cobb said. “I have to be more aggressive and more offensive.
“Clagon has an interesting style, he likes to back up and wait for you. So when I do shoot, I should commit to it and shoot hard.”
Two years after stepping away from wrestling, Cobb has returned with a vengeance, racking up awards in his junior season. Although he was not able to compete in last year’s Keystone Classic due to injury, he finished the campaign with first team All-Ivy recognition and a Round of 12 appearance at the NCAA National Championships.
Cobb is not the only wrestler looking forward to Sunday’s action. Fellow senior Lorenzo Thomas, coming off a finals appearance in the 184-pound class at the Bearcat Open, is also excited to compete against some new grapplers.
“I think Pitt’s going to be there, Northwestern will and some Big 10 schools,” said Thomas. “I’m ready to wrestle some non-conference opponents.”
After a finals loss to rival Gabe Dean of Cornell at the Bearcat Open, Thomas has been honing his technique in preparation for the Keystone Classic.
“I’m working on my positioning and hand-fighting,” elaborated Thomas. “There’s some stuff that I’ve been working on in neutral to work the match to my advantage.”
Historically, strong performances at the Keystone Classic have foreshadowed achievement at the end of the season. 31 wrestlers at last year’s tournament went on to qualify for the NCAA Championships — the crown jewel of collegiate wrestling.
“It is still early in the season, but I think the tournament will be a great predictor for how the season will turn out,” Thomas said. “[Our] main goal is to win a national championship.”
With that lofty ambition in mind, Penn will hit the mats this weekend looking to ensure that the Palestra remains safely in the hands of the Red and Blue.
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