The dual-meet season is over and the record won't change. It ain't pretty now and it sure won't get any prettier. Six-and-seven. A game below .500. It's the first time the Penn wrestling team hasn't had a winning record in a decade, and only the second time ever in coach Roger Reina's 15-year tenure. Yup, 6-7. It's ugly -- not the kind of record that's going to get a team ranked in the top 25. It's a scarlet letter, a black mark. But it's misleading. Just like the Penn men's basketball team's 0-8 start. You remember that, don't you? Best 0-8 team in the country? Well, the basketball Quakers were the best 0-8 team in the country back in December. And these wrestling Quakers probably are the best 6-7 team in the country now. Both teams came into this season grinning after stellar 1999-2000 performances. (The basketball Quakers went undefeated in the Ivy League, while the wrestling Quakers finished ninth in NCAAs.) And both teams started slowly. But that's where the similarities end. The basketball Quakers are still scurrying, unsure about this year, unsure about next year -- sure to be a force in the Ivies, but sure not to be a force on a national level. The wrestling Quakers, meanwhile, have recovered and regrouped from their much-less-than-stellar start. Penn lost to a pair of unranked foes at the Virginia Duals in mid-January. And then the Quakers dropped matches to Cornell and Penn State in late January to fall out of the top-25. Obviously, there was a plethora of questions for the reeling Quakers. Has Penn really fallen this far? Were the losses of three All-Americans from a year ago just too much for the Quakers to take? But the answers -- no, and no -- became pretty clear last month. Sure, the Quakers lost matches to Lehigh and Arizona State last month. But those teams are currently ranked 10th and 11th in the nation. In the Quakers' other four matches last month, they outscored their opponents, 142-27. So things weren't as bleak as they seemed in January. Still, we're not talking monumental turnaround here. The Quakers aren't going to win NCAAs. And barring a miracle, this team won't improve upon last year's finish at the meet. But then again, this year won't mark the start of some decline in what has become one of the nation's best wrestling programs. The fact that Penn hasn't had this few victories in 14 years shouldn't be a huge concern. That 6-7 record -- it's an anomaly, a blip, a stray dot. Why? First of all, this is a retooling year. Eight of Penn's 10 starters this season weren't starting for Penn 12 months ago. And freshmen comprise half of the Quakers' lineup. Yes, half. Granted, these freshmen were part of the fourth-best recruiting class in the country. But they're still freshmen. More importantly, though, Penn still has the attitude necessary for a winner. Sure, the Quakers may say publicly that they don't care about their record, that all they care about is next bout. But they care. Reina told me that, "in some ways, [our record] was tough to take." I could tell, though, that Reina was being a bit euphemistic. And that's a good thing. A team with national-stage aspirations shouldn't take a 6-7 record in stride. But Reina isn't dwelling on the record, either. And he shouldn't be. "The rankings most matter at the end of the season," Reina said. "And the opportunity is right in front of us." Yes, the opportunity. It starts with EIWAs this weekend. And while Penn lost to EIWA rival Lehigh in a dual meet two weeks ago, the Quakers aren't playing the scared puppy. "If we perform like we're capable of, this doesn't need to be close," Reina said. That's the kind of thing you expect the coach of a 12-1 team to say. But to hear Reina say it, well... Well, that's good. It's the 'winning isn't everything, it's the only thing' approach. It's the attitude of a coach that knows his team belongs closer to 12-1 than 6-7, an attitude of a coach who knows 6-7 is -- or better be -- just a blip.Comments powered by Disqus
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