For the most part, Penn wrestling lives to fight another day at the NCAA Championships.
The opening slate of matches at Madison Square Garden featured one of the Red and Blue’s own, as junior Caleb Richardson competed in the 133-pound pigtail round. His opponent, Michigan’s Rosario Bruno, came in as a defending All-American but struggled to a 14-11 record in 2015-16.
No one was able to get on the board in the opening period, but an escape early in the second period got Bruno on the board first. Richardson tied the score at 1-all the next period, forcing sudden victory. When no one could put points on the board, it headed to tiebreakers where the All-America proved too much for Richardson, securing the 2-1 win.
With the loss, Richardson was pushed to the pigtail match in the consolation rounds, where he took on Northwestern’s Dominick Malone. His run at the tournament would end there. After falling behind 6-0 in the first period, Richardson wouldn’t get closer, scoring only a single point on an escape as time ran out while Malone handed him a 14-1 defeat.
After Richardson’s first match, however, the Quakers’ saw action next when sophomore May Bethea’s turn came against Edinboro’s Austin Matthews at 157 pounds. There, the Red and Blue walked away with a much more favorable result.
A takedown in the first minute gave Bethea a 2-0 lead over the tournament’s 14-seed. After going up 6-3 after two periods, Matthews managed to even the score at 7-all. That’s where things stood when time ran out, but thanks to riding time, the sophomore was awarded a final point to give him the 8-7 win.
Riding time proved to be a boon for Penn as 174-pounder Casey Kent took to the mats. Battling No. 8 Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech. After a scoreless first period, Epperly was controversially awarded two points on a reversal, and Tirapelle used one of his two challenges to dispute the call. After a video review, however, the points stood and Kent trailed, 2-0.
Out of the review timeout, Kent immediately earned a point on an escape, then tied things up at two at the opening of the final period.
“It shows experience,” Penn coach Alex Tirapelle said of Kent’s response to the reversal call. “He’s a veteran, he believes in himself. He’s not done in this tournament.”
No one else would score in the match, but by the time the clock read 0:00, Kent had recorded enough riding time to get the extra point and the 3-2 upset.
With the wins by Bethea and Kent, the Quakers became one of just six schools to defeat two seeded opponents in the opening round.
But competition wasn’t done quite yet, as Penn’s only seeded wrestler, No. 11 Lorenzo Thomas, had yet to compete at 184 pounds. Taking on West Virginia’s Bubba Scheffel, neither grappler could score through two periods, though Thomas built up a sizable bank of riding time in the process.
It got tight for Thomas in the third, falling behind, 2-1 early. He responded appropriately, however, securing a takedown to make it 3-2. It was the final time anyone would score in the match — excluding the eventual point the 11th-seeded wrestler got from riding time — as Thomas took home the 4-2 win in the first bout on his quest to repeat his 2014 All-American performance.
“It helps because I’ve been here before,” Thomas noted that evening. “I don’t really get nervous. I mean, yeah, there’s a big crowd, but I’m used to doing it now. And I knew today was going to be a tough one and I had to stay focused match by match.”
That evening, the grapplers continued their run through the championship brackets.
Bethea was tasked with facing No. 3 Jason Nolf out of Penn State, an opponent he had never matched up with before. He learned a lot about Nolf in the next seven minutes, trailing big, early. A 6-2 first period only got worse, culminating in a 25-10 technical fall and forcing Bethea into the consolation bracket.
“[Bethea] came in, got a good win, knocked out one of the seeded guys, then he turned around and wrestled one of the best kids in the tournament at the weight,” Tirapelle said. “The kid’s good. Hats off to him. He’s better than us at this point. Hopefully we can close that gap moving forward, but right now, he’s just better than us.
“I think May’s competed well. It’s all about how’s he’s going to bounce back, respond, compete tomorrow morning.”
Just a short while later, Kent and No. 9 Chandler Rogers got things going. When they met at the Southern Scuffle in January, Kent was the easy victor in a 10-0 decision.
Things were a little different the second time around. After going down to Rogers, 12-2, in the first period, the next two minutes were scoreless. Before the third period could expire, however, Rogers managed to pin Kent and take the 19-6 win to advance to the quarterfinals.
That left Thomas as Penn’s only competitor in the championship bracket. It would stay that way.
Thomas concluded the evening’s action for the Red and Blue, handily defeating No. 6 Blake Stauffer, 10-1. After netting six points in the opening period, Thomas controlled the match. While his opponent from Arizona State managed an escape to make it 6-1, Thomas netted three more points in the third period and topped it off with a point from riding time, securing his spot in the quarterfinals.
“I just had to keep good positioning,” Thomas said. “I thought I had good positioning most of the much, gave him my legs a little easy, though. But I was able to work off of that, I thought I kept good positioning.”
Just one win away from a second stint as an All-American, the 184-pounder must now face No. 14 Willie Miklus from Missouri. The two met at NCAAs last year, with Miklus walking away with the opening round win.
“It’ll be a good one to get out here and try to get one back,” he added.
Bethea and Kent will also compete tomorrow, facing the more challenging path to All-American status through the consolation brackets. They will find out their opponents later this evening.
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