In just a year and a half at the helm of the Penn wrestling, coach Alex Tirapelle has already molded the program into his own.
Tirapelle, who spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Stanford before being hired to replace Rob Eiter in August 2014, has implemented an approach that encompasses both how he recruits student-athletes and how he coaches his wrestlers.
When scouting prospective future Quakers, Tirapelle looks for more than just skill on the mat.
“Obviously, we want guys with talent, both academically and athletically,” Tirapelle said. “But within about five minutes of watching a kid wrestle, you can tell whether he can wrestle.
“The conversation I have with people is about character. The people who we bring into our program are part of our program forever. It’s not just about the next four years and how many matches they win for us — they’re going to be representing Penn wrestling for the rest of their lives.”
Those who do come to Penn become part of Tirapelle’s system built on technique, organization and team unity.
“Coach Tirapelle is a little bit more technically-focused [than Coach Eiter],” junior 157-pounder Brooks Martino said. “He likes to break things down, look at it analytically, and bring it all back together.”
“[The entire team] has a similar philosophy,” senior 149-pounder C.J. Cobb said. “This is the kind of technique we do. We get the strong ties, all of that stuff.”
Tirapelle is known for his frequent calls to his grapplers from the sidelines during matches, reminding them of what they should be focused on as they wrestle.
“All of the stuff you hear coach yelling in the matches is the stuff we drill [in practice] all the time,” Cobb added.
Even though wrestling is an individual sport, where only one member of a team is competing at any given time, Tirapelle has worked to develop a distinct team personality.
“We want to get everybody on the same page, we want to establish discipline, and order, and start to kind of build that team camaraderie and team concept,” Tirapelle said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
“Through this structure, we’re developing more of a team personality,” Cobb agreed.
Tirapelle’s coaching style is a product of the many coaches he has wrestled under and worked alongside. His career began while wrestling for his father in high school, and he later competed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and coached at the University of California, Davis before moving on to Stanford for the 2011 season.
“I would say my philosophy is bits and pieces from all those different places,” Tirapelle said.
Tirapelle’s leadership has already delivered strong results. Penn finished 9-4 in dual meets last season, producing five NCAA qualifiers, six All-Ivy wrestlers, and a fifth-place Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling League finish, an improvement of five spots from the previous season.
“I think the team has done a great job,” Tirapelle said. “Even by the end of last year I was amazed at how quickly we got on the same page and moving in the right direction.
“You always want to be further along than we are but I’ve been very impressed with the guys, the department, and the support staff. I feel like we have a lot of good things going for us.”
“Last year we had a good season and this year it’s looking good so far,” senior 184-pounder Lorenzo Thomas said. “We have a couple big matches that we need to focus on, but it definitely looks bright.”
The change has been somewhat of a transition, especially for the upperclassmen. With former assistant coach Matt Valenti’s move from the team to the position of Penn’s assistant athletic director for recruiting this season, the entire coaching staff is different from that of just two seasons ago.
“With any coaching change, there’s a change in schedule and how they run their practices and handle their team,” Martino said. “But aside from those minor changes, it’s still the same sport of wrestling. We’re still coming in and wrestling hard.”
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