Penn wrestlers were back on campus a few days early this semester to kick off the 2016 dual meet season in a hard-fought 27-10 loss to Lehigh at the Palestra on Sunday.
The Quakers had already gotten a taste of the 10th-ranked Mountainhawks over winter break at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Red and Blue finished a respectable 10th in the field of 28 back on January 2. Senior Lorenzo Thomas was one of the brightest stars for the Quakers at the tournament, and his lone loss was a thrilling 5-3 semi-final defeat courtesy of Lehigh’s Nate Brown.
Thomas’ rematch with Brown was the selling point of Sunday’s match and it didn’t fail to entertain the crowd.
After trading takedowns in the first two periods, third-ranked Brown was able to carry out a 4-2 victory over No. 9 Thomas to increase the Penn deficit to 11 points in the match with only one bout to remaining, thus clinching a victory for Lehigh.
Despite the loss for Thomas and the Quakers, the break did not end without positives.
Junior Caleb Richardson, the two-time NCAA qualifier, may not have had his best showing at the Southern Scuffle but the 133-pound Virginia Beach native came into his own when he took on two-time All-American Mason Beckman in the dual meet. The win not only represented a breakthrough for the veteran grappler but could also be a key victory down the road when seeding is determined for the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament in March.
The biggest story for Penn wrestling, however, is no doubt the reemergence of 174-pounder Casey Kent. The senior grappler has catapulted himself up the rankings over the last month following an impressive — and team best — third-place finish at the Southern Scuffle.
Kent is now undoubtedly one of the Quakers biggest stars to go along with Thomas, Richardson and fellow senior C.J. Cobb. Kent’s continued improvement will be vital to keep Penn’s chances at an Ivy and EIWA titles alive. Additionally, he is another potential All-American in the Red and Blue lineup at 174 pounds.
Penn’s 10 points in the Lehigh bout came on impressive victories from three of those stars. In addition to Kent’s 12-3 domination of Gordon Wolf and Richardson’s 4-3 victory over Beckman, Cobb edged out a 2-1 triumph over Laike Gardner at 149 pounds.
The win over No. 19 Gardner was a necessary rebound for Cobb, who struggled to find his groove at the Southern Scuffle. Cobb, who was looked at as the Quakers’ best bet to be on the NCAA podium in March, will need to tough out more wins like that one if he wants to get past the blood rounds at Madison Square Garden during his final campaign.
The Quakers will get a bit of a break after the tough early schedule when coach Alex Tirapelle takes his squad on a bit of an interesting road trip this weekend. Penn will face off against Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn., at noon on Sunday and then the team will head to West Point for a matchup with Army at 5 p.m.
These two bouts shouldn’t prove too difficult for the Quakers, who could use a couple of additions to the win column ahead of the conference schedule.
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