Rest is for the weak.
That has been Penn wrestling’s mantra as of late. And, after a weekend consisting of several closely contested and grueling dual matches, the Quakers have certainly earned a respite.
The Palestra played host to Ivy League opponents Cornell and Columbia and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association rival Bucknell, a slate which tested the limits of the Red and Blue’s endurance. In the end, Penn went 1-2, losing both Ancient Eight matchups and emerging victorious against the Bisons.
Cornell, a perennial powerhouse, was the first school on the Quakers' schedule. The Big Red, ranked No. 15 in the nation, put their 71-match Ivy League win streak on the line, an unbeaten run that stretches back more than 14 years.
In defeating Penn by a score of 21-9, Cornell maintained its conference perfection and helped clinch its 13th-consecutive Ivy League title. The score, though lopsided, was not a reflection of the quality of the competition, as close, last-second losses spelled the difference between victory and defeat for the Red and Blue.
Senior star Lorenzo Thomas, who hoped to cement his legendary status with a victory over long-time nemesis Gabe Dean of Cornell, was one of these casualties. Dean, ranked No. 1 nationally among 184-pound wrestlers, was pushed to the brink by Thomas’ unique scrambling style, which propelled him from an early deficit to an overtime round. In sudden death, Dean got off a last-second takedown, earning two points and an important victory for Cornell.
Despite their numerous meetings, dating back to their freshman seasons, Thomas has never defeated his Ivy rival. With a potential rematch looming at the EIWA and NCAA Championships, Thomas recognizes his need to get over the hump.
“I need faster starts. I keep getting off to a slow start,” Thomas said. “I was able to come back and tie it, but I need to work on the first half of the match.”
Another close loss came as a surprise for the Quakers, as senior No. 11 C.J. Cobb fell to Joey Galasso in a 5-2 upset. Senior No. 15 Casey Kent lost a rematch with No. 5 Brian Realbuto, who sought revenge after Kent knocked him out early at the Southern Scuffle in January.
The match, though disappointing, offered some encouraging results. Sophomore Marc Mastropietro defeated two-time NCAA qualifier Mark Grey in stunning fashion. Trailing 6-2 in the third period, Mastropietro rattled off two takedowns to force an extra period, where he finished the bout with under 10 seconds remaining.
Junior Frank Mattiace, recently recovered from a major injury, performed admirably in just his second match since returning, notching a solid win at 197 pounds. His success would be a precursor for the weekend, as he was the only Quaker to remain undefeated throughout all three matches.
“This week, it was real important to stick with the basics and get my conditioning back,” Mattiace said. “I just had to stay focused. We had a long weekend, three matches is a lot of matches, so I was trying to take it one at a time and try not to look too far ahead.”
Sunday, though a day of celebration for the Quakers’ seniors, got off to an inauspicious start. Cobb, who contracted an unidentified illness, was held out of Sunday’s matches and replaced by fellow senior Eric Friedman. Family and friends gathered for Senior Day watched as the Red and Blue dropped a close match to Columbia by a score of 19-16, a tally that made Cobb’s absence all the more conspicuous.
Head coach Adam Tirapelle, however, refused to use Cobb’s ailment as an excuse.
“C.J is obviously a quality wrestler who is very dependable and wins a lot of matches for us. And having him in the lineup obviously really helps,” said Tirapelle. “But, you know, everyone is going through that this time of year. Guys get hurt, they get dinged up, they’re sick. To sit here and say we didn’t have this guy or that guy … we’re in the same boat as everybody else.”
Penn got off to an early lead in the match with junior Jeremy Schwartz’s victory at 125 pounds, but quickly took a turn for the worse when Columbia’s Angelo Amenta pinned junior Caleb Richardson from neutral. Wins from Kent, Thomas and Mattiace brought the score back in Penn’s favor with one bout to go. But, sophomore heavyweight Patrik Garren lost to Garrett Ryan, which clinched the win for the Lions.
Following a ceremony in which four of Penn’s senior wrestlers were honored, Bucknell’s grapplers stepped to the mat. The Bisons boast three nationally ranked wrestlers, all of whom combined to give the Quakers as much as they could handle. Despite three major decision victories and a pin by No. 8 Joe Stolfi, Penn squeaked out a close team win by a score of 19-18.
Mattiace wrapped up his undefeated weekend for the Quakers, who will now begin preparations for the EIWA Championships at the beginning of March.
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