This week, Penn wrestling coach Alex Tirapelle asked his wrestlers to take turns carrying each other across the practice room. While the activity provided a good workout, it also emphasized the necessity of cohesion, the need for the teammates to lift each other in times of strife.
This weekend, Penn’s wrestlers will need to come together as they will face two teams who each boast multiple nationally-ranked grapplers over the span of 48 hours.
That is not to say, however, that the Quakers are unprepared for the challenge. Many of the team’s wrestlers have been in top form as of late, leading the Red and Blue to victories in 3 out of their first 4 dual matches of 2015-16.
Penn’s success has not gone unnoticed. The NCAA recently released the first of four Coaches’ Panel rankings, which included five Penn grapplers. Sophomore May Bethea, junior Caleb Richardson, and seniors Lorenzo Thomas, C.J. Cobb and Casey Kent were all ranked within the top 33 nationwide for their respective weight classes. Cobb and Thomas, who just picked up his 100th career win against Binghampton, were both rated No. 11 in the country by the panel, which is comprised of coaches from a range of Division I conferences. The ranking is a crucial metric, as along with winning percentage and rating percentage index, it will be used to determine bids for the NCAA Championships in March.
The accolades, however, will not affect Penn’s preparation for two dual meets against Princeton and Rider this weekend. The Quakers will travel to New Jersey, where the Tigers (2-5) are set to host their only home meet of the season. Penn will then return to the Palestra to face Rider (6-8) on Sunday.
The first Ivy League action of the season for both teams should be closely contested. Princeton, whose program was once mired in mediocrity, boasts a wealth of talent. Coached by former All-American Chris Ayres, the Tigers will likely field four nationally ranked wrestlers against the Red and Blue this weekend, including Abram Ayala and Brett Harner, who performed spectacularly at the Midlands Championships.
Tirapelle, however, emphasized that consistency has been the key to success for his team.
“Preparation doesn’t change that much. As far as the type of gains you’ve been making and the type of training, it stays mostly the same,” Tirapelle said.
“With lesser teams, you can put on more volume at the beginning of the week and maybe with higher-level teams, if you feel you really need to perform, you can pull it back a little. That’s really the only difference.”
Rider, like Princeton, will present unique difficulties to the Quakers. The team possesses four Eastern Wrestling League champions along with No. 7 Conor Brennan at 157 pounds. He will likely be countered by No. 17 May Bethea, who has not lost a match in three weeks. The question that remains is whether his brother Ray will be able to join him on the mats this weekend, as he missed the match against Binghamton due to injury.
“It’s too early to tell 100 percent, but it’s looking unlikely at this point,” Tirapelle said. “It’s still day-to-day in our sport. You really don’t know until Friday afternoon who’s really going to be going for you.”
Though the Quakers are confident in their abilities, a fully healthy roster would definitely soothe their worries.
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