Every ship needs a captain.
For Penn wrestling, that's fifth-year senior Frank Mattiace. Coming off a busy but successful winter break, the Quakers will look to keep improving as they head into the midpoint of their season. This weekend will be another wild one for the Red and Blue, as they have a tournament and an away meet in back-to-back days.
Millersville, Pa. is the Quakers' first destination, where they will compete in the Shorty Hitchcock Memorial Classic. Facing off against a mix of wrestlers from nationally-ranked and still-improving teams, this tournament will test Penn's depth.
“I think we’ve got a number of guys who can really benefit from this competition. In our sport it helps everybody to gain experience competitively out in the field and then be able to come back and bring that experience into the practice room. It elevates everybody’s level to be able to do that, so this is a really important tournament for us,” coach Roger Reina said.
The next day, the team will head north to West Point, N.Y. to face off against a 1-3 Army squad. In last year’s matchup between these two teams, the Black Knights left the Palestra narrow winners by a score of 18-14, but Reina is excited by the possibility of turning last year’s loss into a victory this year.
“[Army] is a really good opponent to compete with at this point in the year, and coming out of the Midlands where we saw a lot of Big Ten opponents and Pac-12 competition in California, I think a really rugged dual meet against Army is a great opportunity for us,” he said.
While they have not faced as many dual teams as the Quakers, Army has had success at the numerous tournaments, especially nationally-ranked junior Rocco Caywood at 197 pounds. The Mattiace-Caywood bout will likely be the marquee matchup.
Mattiace’s convincing showing over the holiday break, including a second-place finish at the prestigious Midlands Championship and two pins in back-to-back dual meets, proves he’s more ready make a deep run into the postseason. After finishing in the top 16 of his weight class at last year’s NCAA championships, he gained the valuable experience and familiarity needed to go even further this year.
“[Making the NCAA championships] would mean a lot to me, but I think my sights are now set a little bit higher than just making it. I plan to be on the podium as high as I can and that’s really the goal right now,” he said.
Having attended high school at New Jersey’s Blair Academy, a perennial regional power for wrestling, Mattiace has been accustomed to the spotlight for years. He only added to his accolades after making the transition from high school to college, winning such events as the East Stroudsburg Open and the high-caliber EIWA Championships during his career as a Quaker.
“He’s competed successfully at the national level, and I think that experience and the confidence of being able to compete at that level is a really good example for the other guys on the team,” Reina said.
In his fifth year for the Red and Blue, after not competing during the 2014-15 season, he is grateful for the chance to go out onto the mat and compete. And while there is still pressure to be successful after his previous performances, Mattiace does not let it get in his way.
“At first when I was younger I felt that pressure, but the longer I’m in this I realize that there’s no reason to have pressure in those situations," Mattiace said. "Having a fifth year is definitely a golden opportunity, since not many people get to have a fifth year. It’s something I’m getting the privilege to do and I’m just happy to be able to do that and take advantage of that opportunity.”
In terms of one of Mattiace’s struggles, Reina points to his tendency to not take it easy on the mat.
“I think that the biggest match Frank has is with himself in terms of letting himself go. Some really good examples of times he has done that are when he pinned his opponent in the first period in the quarterfinals of the Midlands, and in the semifinals where he was wrestling the number one seed and he won 8-1," Reina said. "Getting into the mindset that going for it is more important than the result — this is the match within the match for Frank.”
Mattiace has been on a tear so far this season. He leads the team with 11 wins, and he seems to be improving. In his final season with the Red and Blue, the veteran has a legitimate chance of achieving his podium dreams.
This captain has the wind in his sails.
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