In a sport where points earned can vary heavily from match to match, it is imperative to hold steady to the finish.
Penn wrestling learned that lesson the hard way this weekend when strong starts but tough finishes against quality opponents doomed the Quakers in back-to-back losses against Princeton and Rider.
Heading into their dual with the Tigers (4-6, 1-0 Ivy) it was clear that Penn (3-3, 0-1) had their work cut out: Two of the team’s top point producers, seniors Casey Kent and Lorenzo Thomas, were both matched with fellow top-20 opponents. Meanwhile, sophomore May Bethea lost in a tough contest to Princeton’s Adam Krop. Despite these steep hurdles, the Red and Blue held an advantage after eight matches.
In the battle of the 174-pound weight class, 17th-ranked Kent faced off with No. 14 Jonathan Schleifer. After trailing for the majority of the match, Kent would rally in the third frame, picking up eight of his 11 points and stealing the victory, 11-9, over Schliefer, whom he had lost to earlier in the season. Kent’s two wins this weekend bring his record up to 19-4 on the season, just three away from his career high.
After missing the previous season due to a back injury, the senior returned in 2015 with a vengeance and has wreaked havoc upon his opponents to date, success Kent attributes to “staying here over the summer and working hard all year.”
Unfortunately for the Quakers, they would go on to lose control of the dual with decisive losses at the heavyweight and 125-pound weight classes. The team would start its Ivy League schedule with a negative result, just its fourth non-Cornell conference loss since 2003.
That is not to say that the Quakers need to “reinvent the wheel,” according to coach Alex Tirapelle. “It’s not so much about remedying the situation,” he said. “I thought that was a pretty salty Princeton team. We were a little shorthanded, [we] had a couple guys out. I thought we’d still be able to get it done and get the win. Hats off to them — they wrestled tough and squeezed it out.”
Ready and raring to go again on Sunday, the Quakers started off strong against Rider (9-9, 4-2 EWL) with an impressive victory from Bethea followed by a major decision from Kent and a technical fall from Thomas, putting the score in Penn’s favor, 12-3. But Thomas’ victory would be the last points the Quakers registered on the day, losing their final six matches and falling to the Broncs, 22-12.
Some of the struggles for the Red and Blue as of late can be tied to injuries — including some of the team’s cornerstones. After starting the season with seven in the top 25, they now boast only four top-20 ranked grapplers: Thomas, Kent, Bethea and senior C.J. Cobb. That quartet combined for a 6-2 record this weekend, picking up 21 of the team’s 27 points over the two duals.
Tirapelle is proud of the work of the team’s centerpieces but notes that it is now up to the other six starters, and those who enter the lineup, to fill in the gaps.
“Those guys are providing a good example. Those are our mainstays. Those are the guys who get it done day in and day out,” he said. “But at the same time, there are 10 weight classes. It’s a team competition. You can’t be riding those guys’ coattails.
“We appreciate their efforts, we appreciate when they can pick up bonus, but we have to be learning from them and everyone else has got to be contributing as well. It’s a team sport. As much as you’re out there competing individually it’s a team sport.”
The Quakers will look to refocus their energy and pick up some wins on Saturday in an Ivy doubleheader with Brown and Harvard.
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