Usually, comparing Penn to its state-funded counterpart elicits irritated exclamations or dismissive scoffs.
On Sunday, however, Penn wrestling traveled to University Park, this time looking to emulate the success of the Nittany Lions.
Ranked the No. 1 team in the country by InterMat, Penn State hosted the annual Nittany Lion Open on Sunday, inviting many of the top Division I teams from across the country. Coached by legendary former NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, Penn State wrestling has recently been a force within collegiate wrestling.
Coach Alex Tirapelle says his team welcomed the challenge of facing such talent on the mat.
“I think it’s a real positive for the team. I think going up against and seeing that level of competition is really valuable,” Tirapelle commented. “The way that those guys wrestle, where they’re at now, it reminds us what we’re trying to do.
With hundreds of wrestlers entered in the tournament, the Open represents some of the toughest competition Penn faces all year. And the Quakers, competing at the Open for the first time since 2010, performed admirably in the face of such staunch competition. The team placed five over the course of the day, with No. 10 Lorenzo Thomas and Casey Kent leading the way for the Red and Blue.
Thomas’ showing was particularly impressive, as, despite being stricken with a bout of illness, he managed to reach the final of the 184-pound weight class. Before he could start the match against Michael Macchiavello of North Carolina State, his sickness worsened, and he was forced medically forfeit the first-place bout.
Tirapelle recognized the determination of his star wrestler.
“I think Lorenzo showed a lot of heart. We’ve had wrestlers in the same situation before, where they were less than 100 percent physically. Lorenzo’s [situation] was worse though because he was really sick ” Tirapelle said. “He had a little diarrhea and had some food come up. He knew going in that the gas tank wasn’t completely full, and he wrestled smart. He picked his spots and picked up a couple of tough wins.”
Thomas was the not the only grappler to make his mark on Sunday. With No. 8 C.J Cobb sidelined after sustaining an injury during November’s Keystone Classic, the Quakers needed to find another key performer to ensure success. Kent, coming off an injury of his own, responded in kind, posting a 5-1 record for the meet and recording two major decisions, a technical fall and a pin. With his lone loss to Myles Martin of Ohio State, Kent finished third at 174 pounds.
“We were looking at almost a month without any competition [for Kent]. So the first one back is always going to start a little rusty,” said Tirapelle. “He was still less than a 100 percent but he found a way to bounce back after he lost in the semifinals.
Caleb Richardson, Frank Mattiace and May Bethea also placed for the Red and Blue, finishing fourth, fifth and fourth in their respective weight classes.
Penn wrestling, as a whole, finished third with 120 points, behind only Rutgers and host Penn State.
The Quakers are off until the new year. Following the weekend, they return to campus, where they will have almost a month to prepare for their next competition, the Southern Scuffle at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
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