Every Saturday and Sunday morning during the winter, the Palestra sits quiet and empty after featuring a men's or women's basketball game the night before. The hundreds of spectators who came to see Diana, Geoff or Lamar are no longer cheering from the hard metal seats. But this weekend, they will have a reason to come back. For the 13th time in the tournament's 97-year history, the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships will be hosted by Penn at the Palestra this Saturday and Sunday. With a revised scoring format that favors team balance, and a field of competitors that boasts unusual parity at several weight classes, this year's Easterns may be one of the most exciting and closest ever. On paper, though, it doesn't seem like that should be the case. On paper, No. 10 Lehigh is slated to rule over a wrestling association whose nine other teams aren't even ranked in the top 25 nationally. On paper, the Engineers return three All-Americans while most teams don't even field one. But paper doesn't count for much in the EIWA, as this year's dual-meet season has proven. "Paper doesn't wrestle," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "Athletes have to go out there and wrestle." This is especially true in the heavyweight division. Already this season, each wrestler in the top six has recorded a win against at least one wrestler above him in the rankings. This includes Penn freshman Mike Faust, who has had a knack for pulling off upsets. The No. 5 seed has beaten both No. 3 Dawid Rechul of Harvard and No. 2 Bronson Lingamfelter of Brown. If Faust wrestles to the best of his ability, he will have a good shot at making the tournament finals and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships later this month in Iowa. Another weight class where there is no clear favorite is the 197-pound division. Lehigh's Jon Trenge -- who is ranked No. 3 in the nation and was the dominant EIWA wrestler at 197 -- recently suffered a season-ending injury to his retina. Penn senior Mike Fickell will take over the No. 1 seed by default. The Quakers' co-captain will face significant competition from, among others, No. 2 Corey Anderson of Cornell -- the defending EIWA champion who beat Fickell in the semifinals last year. Fierce competition should also be seen this weekend at 157, which features three wrestlers ranked in the top 20 in the nation including Penn co-captain Yoshi Nakamura. Nakamura was undefeated in NCAA-sanctioned bouts until current EIWA No. 1 Ryan Bernholz spoiled the Quakers junior's perfect season two weekends ago, winning 2-1 in a tiebreaker. If these two grapplers can hold off No. 3 Leo Urbinelli of Cornell and No. 4 Max Odom of Harvard, a highly-anticipated rematch will ensue in the finals on Sunday night. While the 157-pound, 197-pound and heavyweight divisions will be close, there are some that definitely should not be. At 125, spectators should expect Penn freshman Mason Lenhard to claim the title. Looking very strong in recent matches, the Quakers' leader in takedowns this season should definitely earn bonus points for Penn this weekend. Freshman Jeff Eveleth will wrestle at 133 for the Quakers. Ranked No. 3 in the EIWA, Eveleth will need to pull off an upset over No. 2 Juan Venturi of Princeton, who won 7-3 the last time the pair met, to get to the finals. No. 1 Matt Picarsic of Harvard is expected to meet Venturi or Eveleth in the finals. At 141, the Quakers will be without Doug McGraw, who reinjured his knee against Lehigh two weeks ago. McGraw's replacement will be freshman Kyle Bernholz, who is Penn's only unseeded wrestler this weekend. Joe and Josh Henson will represent Penn at 149 and 174, respectively. The identical twins are both ranked No. 3 in their respective weight classes and will have to win tough bouts to get to the finals. At both weight classes, a wrestler ranked in the top five nationally -- No. 4 Dave Esposito of Lehigh at 149 and No. 3 Maurice Worthy of Army at 174 -- stands in the way of a title. Senior Tim Ortman will wrestle for the Quakers at 165. The nation's No. 20 at this weight has been wrestling at his best over the past few weeks, and may contend for the title if he continues to do so. At 184, the Quakers will use freshman Marcus Schontube, who has exceeded expectations and could be dangerous if his opponents come in overconfident. In addition to having NCAA qualifiers, Reina will also be looking for his team to recapture the EIWA team title. The Quakers had won four straight before Lehigh snapped their streak last year. Reina has clearly defined his goals to his team. "The real factors for us are three-fold," Reina said. "We're going to need to upset some opponents, score bonus points and wrestle with a lot of enthusiasm and tenacity in the consolation rounds." The Quakers have looked strong in recent matches. With only Easterns and Nationals remaining on the schedule, the Red and Blue appear to be peaking at the right time. Now it's just a matter of finally putting into practice the team mentality that Reina has emphasized all season.Comments powered by Disqus
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