Another day, another dual. For Penn wrestling, this weekend will be another test of resilience, as it will face strong opposition with minimal recovery time in between.
The Quakers (2-4, 0-2 EIWA) will be on the road Friday night to take on an in-form Bucknell squad before hosting American on Sunday at noon.
The Red and Blue should be feeling positive, having just rebounded to dispatch a respected Lock Haven team on Saturday after falling to No. 7 Lehigh the day prior. Junior May Bethea, who wrestles at 157-pounds, certainly believes the team is mentally up for the task ahead.
“I think we feel pretty confident,” Bethea said. “Definitely a good win here against Lock Haven that boosted our confidence coming into this weekend, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Building on that, coach Alex Tirapelle added that the team was able to learn from both their successes and failures this past weekend, and is ready to take on this new challenge.
“We just want to carry the momentum forward,” Tirapelle said. “I was just talking to our guys and we feel like we took some good steps forward in some areas we’d been working on specifically. We want to take those next steps, no backwards steps, and just keep moving it forward.”
As Penn’s immediate concern, the Bison (5-4, 3-1) are coming in with serious momentum, having recently knocked off their last three opponents and dropping just one conference dual since November.
The strength of this opponent does not deter senior Casey Kent, who dominated to the tune of 15-0 this past Saturday.
“I think we should be able to beat [Bucknell]. When we wrestle good, we beat a pretty solid team in Stanford. At our best we should be able to beat both teams this weekend,” he said.
Tirapelle echoed those sentiments, careful to note the added difficulty of battling on the road.
“Obviously Bucknell has a really good team, coming third in the EIWA in the past couple years, and they are going to be ready to compete,” Tirapelle said. “We’re going to their place, hostile territory, so we’re gonna have to give our best performance to beat them.”
After wrapping up in Lewisburg, Penn will travel back home, get some much deserved rest, and aim to return to full strength for Sunday’s dual at the Palestra. The visiting Eagles (3-4, 0-3) will be looking to turn around their losing streak in Philadelphia, which has plagued them since their January 6th win over Wyoming, and a fatigued Penn side could be their chance.
“Thankfully we have a day in between; it’s harder just back-to-back. We’ll get back late Friday evening, but then we will have Saturday to recover and shift gears, and refocus on American. We’re going to try to keep our focus on Bucknell until we finish that match,” Tirapelle said.
Kent is used to this grueling type of scheduling, and doesn’t concern himself too much with the inconvenient timing.
“It’s like the same as what we did last weekend. We had one on Friday and Saturday, it’s a little bit more annoying now though, because we have one day between our weigh-ins, so it will kind of be our whole weekend,” Kent said.
A handful of the Penn grapplers may be feeling a boost of confidence, having just been named to the NCAA Coaches Panel, where the top-33 wrestlers in each weight class are determined by a collection of Division I coaches. Listed in this first 2017 edition, from Tirapelle’s crew were No. 10 Casey Kent, No. 15 Frank Mattiace, No. 22 May Bethea, and No. 32 Joe Heyob.
Bethea admitted he was flattered by the recognition, but that his mindset was generally unchanged. “It certainly feels good to be ranked, but I want to be one of the top in the country, so it’s not as high as I’m planning to be,” he noted.
Despite having some of his wrestlers singled out for superior performance, Tirapelle is not convinced it will be his big guns that will win them the weekend, given their opponents.
“In both duals this weekend, we are fairly alike teams, in the sense that we have our mainstays in the guys that are dependable every match,” Tirapelle said. “And then we have the guys that are a little greener, with less experience, and you don’t know exactly what you’re gonna get from them. I think those guys are more likely to determine the outcome.”
So with another big test slated ahead, Penn will have to find a way to dig deep and pull out two big in-conference victories crammed into one action-packed weekend.
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