The road to NCAAs runs through Princeton.
This weekend, Penn wrestling will head to Jadwin Gym as the Tigers play host for the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, taking place across two days.
For the Quakers, the tournament is the next step on the road to becoming an All-American, as it serves as the primary means of qualifying for the NCAA Championships, although some at-large bids will still be up for grabs.
Bids to nationals, hosted at Madison Square Garden on March 17-19, are given out to the top-finishing wrestlers in each weight class at EIWAs, though the number of bids in each weight class will vary between three and seven wrestlers. If the Red and Blue hope to punch their tickets to the Big Apple, they must first have strong performances this weekend.
Fortunately for the Quakers, they’ve had some time to prepare. By the time this weekend rolls around, Penn will have had two full weeks off following a dual meet at Drexel.
“I think [the break] helped, because we get a full week of hard preparation and then a week of tapered off, less-intense work,” senior Lorenzo Thomas said. “The average week we split it half and half where we go hard in the beginning then taper off, but this time it was a full week of each.”
Thomas is one of coach Alex Tirapelle’s best shots at taking home an individual EIWA title, coming in ranked No. 16 at 184 pounds — although his longtime rival from Cornell, Gabe Dean, holds the top spot in the InterMat rankings.
On the whole, the Red and Blue come into the weekend looking to move past some tough losses in dual meets — including defeats at the hands of Drexel and Princeton — and get some grapplers back from injuries in recent weeks.
Tirapelle is not only confident that everyone will be ready to go — including 149-pounder CJ Cobb and 141-pounder Marc Mastropietro, who sat out against Drexel a week and a half ago — but that the team has the potential to stake out a strong performance at Jadwin.
“I think we’re at a point where I think we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves pre-season,” he said. “Selfishly, and as a coach, you always think you can be doing better. Like I said, it’s a finite amount of time and you always wish you had a couple more weeks to work on things.
“It’s about prioritizing and figuring out what will have the biggest impact on the wins and losses.”
For Thomas, this will be his last go-around after four years of EIWA competition. And he’s ready for his team to lay it all on the line.
“We all have to step it up to get to our goals,” he explained.
“We can’t just coast through it and expect to do well. We’re in the zone, and there’s no room for going in satisfied.”
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