Apparently, I have a secret. The Quakers overcame a hearty dose of adversity to roar back and defeat their wrestling archrival, Cornell, 19-16 in a battle between the nation's 14th- and 15th-ranked teams. Very much a winner-take-all affair, recent history tells us the team left standing after the Quakers and the Big Red lock horns will roll to the Ivy title. Think Penn and Princeton have a basketball dynasty? The last time a team other than Penn or Cornell was crowned Ivy League champ, the Fridge was making Super Bowl headlines, Lt. Col. Oliver North was busy selling arms to the Contras and Vice President George Bush was considering a run for the presidency two years down the road. With an air of drama hanging thick over the Palestra, it seems the only thing missing was the Penn students. While the friends, family and alumni of Penn wrestling filled the chairback seats in the south stands and kept the noise level high, a generous estimate might put the number of unaffiliated Penn students at around two dozen. Yet for some reason, almost 2,500 fans were willing to brave a blinding snow storm last Tuesday to trudge down to the Palestra for Penn-Drexel basketball. The sub-.500 Quakers played yet another forgettable game, trying every way possible to hand the game to the undersized Dragons before eking out an agonizingly boring 54-46 non-league win. That's just the way college sports work. The basketball players are minor celebrities, and the wrestlers go unnoticed. At this very moment, most of the people reading this page in the dining hall are probably spilling crumbs on this column as they read the basketball results adjacent to my 1,000 words and two cents. So I'll let it slide, the fact that you call yourself a sports fan and yet somehow skipped out on an opportunity to see some actual excitement at the Palestra. I never planned to write a column about the match, but it was simply too dramatic -- too important -- for me to let it slide by with just a handful of Penn students noticing. Allow me to set the stage. Penn, ranked No. 15, and Cornell, ranked No. 14, shared the Ivy title last year after wrestling to a 16-16 draw early in the season. In '93-94, the Quakers won their first Ivy title in 22 years after edging Cornell and snapping the Big Red's eight-year Ivy unbeaten streak. Since then, the only Ivy loss for the Quakers came at the hands of Cornell in '95. And they had not lost to Cornell at the Palestra since '92. Penn 125-pounder Kevin Rucci broke a bone in his hand at the National Dual Meet tournament, forcing the Quakers -- without another eligible 125-pounder -- to forfeit the weight class to Cornell. Thus, the home squad found itself in a hole from the get-go. With the match starting at 165 pounds and ending at 157, the two squads watched the lead see-saw. Penn took a 6-0 edge after two matches but Cornell led 13-9 after the forfeit at 125. At 133 pounds, Quakers senior Jason Nagle outwrestled Big Red junior Sean Doyle to shrink Cornell's lead to one with three matches remaining. Although the Quakers could count on a win by second-ranked Brett Matter at 157, if they did not win at either 141 or 149, Cornell would be assured the victory, Matter or no Matter. At 141, Penn freshman Jody Giuricich lost the first takedown to Big Red senior Ben New. Giuricich wrestled valiantly, though; trailing by one, he rode out New in the third period to earn a crucial riding-time point and send the match into sudden-death overtime. The veteran from Cornell prevailed, however, taking down the Penn frosh in OT to win the bout and make it 16-12, Cornell. Enter the hero, Penn's Jonathan Gough. A little-known senior in his first year in the starting lineup, Gough squared off at 149 against Alex Berman, a Cornell junior with six pins to his name this year. Berman got the first takedown, sending a hush over the Penn crowd as Cornell inched closer to victory. Gough, however, got the quick escape to make it 2-1. In the second period, Gough again escaped to tie it at two. Even then, however, a betting man would have put his money on the Big Red. The Cornell wrestler would choose bottom, escape for his one, and take the match. But Berman, an Israeli native, chose neutral. "With international-style wrestling, they're not as good on the mat," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "So I think they feared going underneath." Nonetheless, Berman appeared to have Gough just where he wanted when he lunged for a head throw midway through the period. In the instant when Berman was bringing Gough to the mat, it seemed a sure thing that Gough would give up at least the two takedown points -- much less any near-fall points if he landed on his back -- shoring up the Big Red victory. Gough, however, rose to the occasion, rolling through to avoid even the takedown. With the match still tied at two, Gough rallied for a late takedown of his own to win 4-2, pulling the rug out from under the Big Red and keeping Penn alive in the match. The frenzied fans shook the Palestra with excitement while the devastated wrestlers on the Cornell bench hung their heads. Sure enough, a charged Matter tooled 17th-ranked Cornell senior Leo Urbanelli, earning a 13-1 major decision to seal the Quakers' 19-16 victory. "That meet is going to rank right up there with some of the best of all time," said Reina, beaming at the way his squad overcame the adversity of having to forfeit at 125. "Our athletes accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion." As I said, I went to the Palestra as a fan, not expecting to write. But this match was just too exciting to keep to myself. Contrary to popular belief, there is an exciting team of national importance that calls the Palestra home. And that squad has one match left at home, on February 20 against always-tough Lehigh. See you there. The secret, I hope, is out.Comments powered by Disqus
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