It’s a fact: Penn’s wrestling team lost its most anticipated dual match of the 2011-12 season. As expected, it was defeated, 21-17, by Cornell. It was a close match, but in the end, the Quakers fell just short.
It has been 10 years now since the Red and Blue last defeated the Big Red. Back then, Roger Reina — perhaps the most successful coach in Penn history — still stood at the helm.
And it’s not that the Quakers have had a weak wrestling team by any means. In the past decade, Penn has had nine All-American selections, 15 first-team All-Ivy selections, 13 EIWA champions and 66 EIWA place-winners.
But during that timespan, the Big Red have been simply superior, winning nine straight Ivy titles. They ranked no worse than No. 11 nationally in each of those seasons. This year, Cornell is currently No. 5.
Yes, Penn could still win the Ancient Eight this year. But seeing how Cornell trounced Ivy rival Princeton, 30-9 , only a few hours after defeating coach Rob Eiter’s squad, the chances are slim.
The Red and Blue will have to defeat three out of four of their Ivy rivals on the road, including Princeton and Harvard. Even if they manage to do it, Cornell would have to lose to an Ivy team — something that hasn’t happened since Penn defeated them in 2002 — not once, but twice.
Individually, Penn’s wrestlers have been successful this year. The future looks bright with freshmen Steve Robertson, Lorenzo Thomas and Ian Korb having already won plenty of matches. But the big question remains: Can they make the difference this year?
Robertson is 19-5 this season but has lost his only match against a currently ranked opponent, No. 13 Josh Wilson from Utah Valley. He must show that he can win against top-notch opposition if he wants to participate in the NCAA tournament in March.
Thomas, likewise, is 16-7 and in a similar position. He is 0-5 against ranked grapplers, and in those losses, he has been outscored, 35-18. The closest was a 7-6 loss to No. 17 Kyle Blevins.
Only upperclassmen Micah Burak (197 pounds), Zach Kemmerer (141) and Bryan Ortenzio (133) are ranked — No. 9, No. 11 and No. 15 respectively. Barring any injuries or late-season slumps, the trio should each earn a spot at the national tournament.
Kemmerer, who has been ranked as high as No. 2 and was an All-American last year, might have the best shot at being national champion. For that, he’ll have to prove that his 9-1 major decision against Cornell’s Mike Nevinger marks the end of a mid-season rough patch.
Burak, who has consistently been wrestling at a high level this year, could also claim the title in St. Louis. But he’ll most likely have to get past Cornell’s No. 1 Cam Simaz — to whom he lost on Saturday, 3-0, for the eighth time in three seasons. While each match between the two has been unbearably close, Burak has yet to win one.
Ortenzio has been the most successful Penn grappler thus far at 20-2. He is 1-2 against ranked wrestlers, including Harvard’s No. 13 Steven Keith, whom he defeated, 6-5, in the final of the Keystone Classic. But at the Midlands Championships five weeks later, he fell, 5-3. More than likely, the battle for the EIWA title will be decided between those two.
So can the Red and Blue still shine in the spotlight? Yes — but they must wrestle flawlessly to do so. If that happens, especially in March, Eiter and Co. might have the last laugh after all.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a freshman business and international studies major from Paris, France. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.