Been there, done that.
As Penn wrestling readies for the 2015-16 season, the Quakers have the security of four returning NCAA qualifiers in Caleb Richardson, May Bethea, Brooks Martino and Casey Kent.
“I’ve been there three times and I’ve come up short three times,” Richardson said. “You want to win all your matches, but it’s all a progression to be an All-American, a national champion. It’s always been my mindset to do that, but this year especially it’s not to get there. I’ve got to get it done when I get there.”
Richardson comes in with the most extensive national resume — having qualified for NCAAs at 125 pounds as a freshman in 2014, then at 133 pounds each of the last two years. In those three runs, however, he’s been limited to just a 1-5 record.
He’s the third youngest of the group, yet he’s been there the most. That experience matters. The rest of the team sees it and it has an effect down the roster.
“I think we continue to set the bar higher for ourselves,” Bethea said. “We sent four guys last season and we to continue to send more, we want to send more guys this season — and we think we can do that.”
Unquestionably, though, it is Kent who comes in with the strongest resume.
A year ago, 184-pounder Lorenzo Thomas was seen as Penn’s odds-on favorite to place at nationals. But when the dust cleared, it was Kent on the podium. In fourth place at 174 pounds, Kent had capped off a triumphant return after losing an entire year to injury.
That injury also left him with an extra year of eligibility — and he decided he wanted to come back for more. Kent wasn’t the only one to end up taking advantage of a potential fifth year, either. After missing his sophomore season, Brooks Martino qualified for NCAAs at 157 pounds. He went 0-2, but a return as a senior seemed more than just possible.
It didn’t come to fruition, but the potential of a fifth year remained. There wasn’t much of a decision to make.
“The only thing I had to think about was the logistics of it all,” he said. “But I knew my sophomore year when I got hurt that I wanted to be back for a fifth year.”
The Quakers have had a particularly strong run at 157 pounds — taking charge at the weight class last year was May Bethea, who qualified for his first nationals as a sophomore earlier in 2016.
Even though this was Bethea’s first run at All-American status, he was by no means unfamiliar with the competition. His elder brother, Canaan, made it to NCAAs twice before graduating from Penn in 2015, logging a 3-1 record between the two tournaments.
With the experience comes an understanding of what it takes to make it to NCAAs. Not only have these grapplers been there before, they want to go back — after that first taste, the hunger is even greater.
It’s one thing for the Red and Blue to send a talented slate of wrestlers out there each meet. Wrestling is a different beast. Raw talent alone isn’t enough to get the job done. But this team has more than just talent. They have four athletes who know exactly what needs to be done to take care of business.
And if experience fosters confidence, the Quakers have plenty of reason to be cocky heading into the season.
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