In a weekend filled with both triumphs and disappointments, senior Bryan Ortenzio punctuated Penn’s trip to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships by capturing the conference title at 133 pounds.
The squad finished fourth overall in the tournament held at Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium on March 3-4 and will send five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships this weekend in St. Louis.
Experience distinguished Ortenzio in his opening three matches, as he faced two freshmen and one sophomore. In particular, experience gave him the upper hand in the semifinals against No. 3 seed Mason Beckman, a freshman from Lehigh.
Despite posting an impressive 26-9 record this season, Beckman wrestled a bit like a “deer in the headlights,” Ortenzio said, as the senior secured a 4-1 victory and advanced to the final.
“I was calm and collected and able to use my experience to my advantage,” said Ortenzio, who defeated Navy senior Aaron Kalil, 2-1, in the title match.
The individual championship ended a drought for Penn dating back to 2008, when the Quakers took home three EIWA titles.
In addition to Ortenzio’s victory, senior Micah Burak also advanced to the final, where he faced Cornell’s Cam Simaz for the third consecutive year. As the nation’s top wrestler in the 197-pound weightclass, Simaz had defeated Burak in all eight of their previous meetings. However, the score was 4-3 in the third period of the final, before Simaz ultimately shot ahead of Burak and won, 9-4.
While not a win, the match was an encouraging sign for Burak’s ability to challenge Simaz in the national championship tournament next weekend.
“If that’s the only time we’re ever going to beat Simaz, I’d rather have it [at NCAAs] than in a dual meet or the conference tournament,” coach Rob Eiter said.
Unseeded senior Erich Smith was wrestling to keep his collegiate career alive, as he needed at least a fourth place finish to advance to the NCAA tournament. After losing his opening match, Smith rebounded to win four consecutive matches, which earned him third place and an automatic spot in NCAAs.
Along the way, Smith avenged two losses from earlier in the season, including a defeat on Penn’s senior night to Columbia’s Shane Hughes.
“I’ve never seen him turn it on like that before,” said Ortenzio, who called Smith the “most valuable wrestler” for the weekend.
No. 1 seed Zack Kemmerer missed an opportunity at an EIWA title, losing in the semifinals to American’s Matt Mariarcher. Up 2-1 in the second period, Kemmerer was wrestling well before his elimination by a contentious neutral fall. The senior was unable to respond in the semifinal consolation, losing a second match, before rounding out the weekend with a win in the fifth-place match.
Eiter noted that Kemmerer can learn from his experience at the EIWA tournament to propel him to a better performance at the national championships.
“I think Zack learned from that second loss that he just didn’t attack as much. He can’t just attack one time and expect to get the takedown every single time. It’s a matter of odds,” Eiter said. “If you shoot five, six, seven times, you’re going to come away with at least one takedown.”
The four wrestlers booked their tickets to NCAAs and will be joined by freshman Steve Robertson, who earned an automatic bid to the national tournament with a fifth-place finish in the 149-pound bracket.
The five members from the squad want to carry their lessons and momentum from EIWAs into next weekend.
“That conference championship is just one step along the way to the ultimate goal of becoming a national champion,” Ortenzio said. “I think we’re going to make some noise out in St. Louis.”