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In his return to the mat, senior Brooks Martino turned in one of Penn's best individual performances against Princeton with a convincing 12-0 victory that gave the Quakers their first points of the day.

Photo: Zach Sheldon | Sports Photo Editor / The Daily Pennsylvanian

There was no leisure for Penn wrestling this winter break, with the Quakers filling their time with some big tournaments and key Ivy League matches.

Not even a week after taking on a strong field at the Southern Scuffle, the Quakers dove into conference play with a home match against Ivy rival Princeton, falling to the Tigers, 28-8.

Reflecting on some performances from the Lehman Open that some wrestlers competed in on the previous day, coach Alex Tirapelle seemed positive about his younger squad’s approach to its individual matches.

“It was productive and worthwhile, and just about everybody took steps forward,” Tirapelle said.

Against Princeton, however, the Quakers knew it would be a tough matchup, and that they had to come out strong and ready to compete. As Penn heads into its dual meet season, it will become more competitive and even more crucial for the team to come prepared to win key matches.

“We knew coming in it would be a competitive dual. They were favored in most of the lower weights and we were favored in most of the upper weights,” Tirapelle said. “They won the first few matches and that’s what made the difference.”

Still, there were certainly bright spots on the weekend for the Red and Blue. Brooks Martino, a senior wrestling at 165 pounds, performed well after taking the first semester off, defeating Princeton’s Riley DeMoss in a 12-0 blowout.

“I was happy with my conditioning and a lot of the positions I put myself in,” Martino said.

Although the meet itself did not end up the way the Quakers wanted to begin their dual season, the grapplers will look to better themselves before the upcoming matches.

“Before the next competition, there is a limited amount of time. We need to improve in a lot of areas, because it wasn’t the case where across the board, there was one area we were deficient in that cost us the match,” Tirapelle said. “It is very individual, and we have to continue to improve our strengths and improve our weaknesses.”

Going into the Princeton dual, the Red and Blue were looking to make big strides individually and as a team, and there were glimpses of dominance beyond Martino’s stellar effort. Joe Heyob, wrestling at 184 pounds, performed well with a huge 11-3 win over the Tigers’ Ian Baker, while others like May Bethea at 157 had very tight matches.

“If we wrestle hard, it will make us better, so it was tough to lose to them being our main rivals in the Ivy league,” Martino said.

Despite ultimately losing, it remains important for the squad to set the tone early in its conference season and go into NCAAs with confidence and a strong record.

“We need to have the intensity and the fire when we go out there. We need to get ourselves into a scoring situation right away. We are spending way too much time on the bottom,” Tirapelle said.

Although Martino was one of the few Quakers with a victory in the dual, he seemed positive for his teammates and the future of the season that lies ahead.

“We set some smaller goals to be more aggressive, and I saw some things we were working on in the room, but obviously didn’t come away with the win, so we didn’t achieve our main goal,” Martino said.

Looking ahead, the squad needs to use the hunger from this defeat to make improvements as it prepares for upcoming matches. This week, Penn will compete in the Shorty Hitchcock Classic in Millersville, Pa. on Jan. 14 before a dual meet against Army at the Palestra on Jan. 15.

“A big thing is going back and watching film to see what we did wrong individually and as a team. It’s a matter of fixing what we did wrong and keeping up what we are doing right,” Martino said.

Coach Tirapelle feels that the team needs to fully capitalize and maximize its potential after this dual, and although Princeton got a small jumpstart on the Penn squad, he feels that his team will close the gap quickly and meet expectations as the season surges onward. If all goes as planned, this is only the beginning of a competitive season for the Red and Blue.

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