When you get knocked down, you get back up again.
For Penn wrestling, this is true both on and off the mats, as two of its mainstays return to the lineup after significant time away. Heading into the season, the comeback kids are senior Casey Kent and junior Frank Mattiace, neither of whom competed for competed for the Quakers last year.
It is here that their stories diverge. Although the duo missed the entirety of 2014-15 for the Red and Blue, Kent remained in the bleachers while struggling through injury, while Mattiace left school for the year.
For Kent, the time off allowed for a perspective change: The two-time second team All-Ivy winner had the chance to be a spectator.
“It was a lot different of an experience last year, because I don’t think I ever sat out a wrestling season,” Kent said. “That was the longest break I’ve ever taken [from] wrestling in my whole life. But I think it got me more motivated, because I got to go to all the tournaments and watch everyone wrestle.
“It got me excited to get back out there.”
In his first competition back, Kent made quite an impact, going all the way to the semifinals at the Bearcat Open for the 174-pounder early in November. Although Kent suffered a minor setback to his knee and thumb during the contest and was forced to sit out during the Keystone Classic, he should be back up for the next competition at Penn State.
“I think I’m ready to go for next weekend. I had a couple of injuries, but they’re getting better,” Kent said.
Meanwhile, Mattiace spent the 2014-15 season dedicated to his personal training, taking advantage of the region’s top facilities and elite coaches.
“I was able to train here at Penn through the Regional Training Center, which opened up last year,” Mattiace said. “I went to some tournaments on my own unattached, and I got to wrestle that way. I also got to spend some time at the Olympic Training Center.”
Aside from improving his technique and physique, Mattiace, a top-10 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association finisher two years ago, believes his mental edge got a significant boost while outside the program.
“Last year was really good for my confidence because everything I had to do was on my own,” Mattiace said. “No one kind of made me do anything, so I had to do it all myself.
“I think that’s a big part of the wrestling world, since even though we’re on a team, you gotta be able to do it for yourself or you’re not gonna get it done.”
Undoubtedly, both grapplers are simply thankful to rejoin Penn’s squad and get back out on the mats.
Kent summed it up best, saying, “The most exciting thing is being able to go out and wrestle again. When you sit out, it’s just a whole different experience sitting in the stands and watching. I just wanna go back out there and wrestle.”
As enthusiastic as the guys are about returning to competitions, Quakers’ coach Alex Tirapelle rivals their excitement — their wins were the things he missed most last season without them.
“They’re two really experienced guys, they go out and get the job done for the team,” Tirapelle said. “Obviously, we miss[ed] their wins individually, but the team feeds off their success as well, so it’s easier to compete at a high level when you see your teammates around you doing that already.”
Despite the duo’s time away from competition, Tirapelle is optimistic about what Kent and Mattiace can do for the Red and Blue moving forward. Although both wrestlers “got dinged up” in their first competitions of the year, the second-year coach recognizes how beneficial Kent and Mattiace’s contributions can be in the long run.
“It [was] November and the season goes through March, so it’s more of a marathon than a sprint,” he said. “So we want to make sure they’re ready to compete at a high level when they step back on the mat.”
And with Penn preparing for an important matchup this weekend at the Nittany Lion Open, only time will tell if the previously fallen athletes can complete their long road back up.
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