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Penn wrestling beats Hofstra at the Palestra on Saturday No. 12 Rollie Peterkin (Penn) def. Steve Bonanno (HU) Credit: Katie Rubin

For Penn’s wrestling team, this season will be business as usual, but with a few very important tweaks.

This year’s squad will have to deal with the loss of six seniors, but the detrimental experience presents a great opportunity for others to step up and fill the void.

Junior Zack Kemmerer finally has an opportunity to start. Kemmerer, who red-shirted his sophomore year, remains the lone wrestler in the 141-pound weight class and will see a huge increase in action now that he has secured the starting position. The prospect of wrestling each and every week will certainly be a transition for Kemmerer, but one that he feels he’s ready to make after two years of preparing for this moment.

“It was a rough first two years” he admits, “but it was a learning experience too.”

For others, like junior Scott Giffin, this year signals the opportunity to take the next step. Wrestling at 174 pounds, Giffin hopes to expand upon the success he had last year and has set pretty high goals for himself.

“I want to be on the podium more than anything,” Giffin said of his aspiration to be nominated as an All-American.

The fact that he was able to defeat a top-10 wrestler last year assures Giffin that he can compete at the highest level. Though he did not receive All-American honors last year, he is as motivated as ever to get there now that he’s had a taste of what it could be like.

“I’ve definitely worked harder [now] than I have my past three years,” he said.

With these two juniors primed for success and other top wrestlers Rollie Peterkin and Cesar Grajales returning, it’s no wonder the preseason polls present reason for optimism.

The team overall has been ranked 24th in Intermat Wrestling’s NCAA Division I rankings. Perhaps even more impressive were some of the individual standings. As a senior, Peterkin is currently ranked sixth in the 125-pound weightclass.

The two captains of this year’s squad, Grajales and fellow senior Matt Dragon, were also recognized. Grajales occupies the seventh seed of the 149-pound weightclass, while Dragon is ranked 17th at 157 pounds.

The Quakers will also benefit from the addition of Matt Valenti to the coaching staff.

Some Penn fans may remember Valenti, who graduated in 2007 as a two-time NCAA champion and Penn’s all-time leader in wins with 137.

And while Valenti’s insight into the sport will prove an invaluable resource for coach Rob Eiter, he will be able to help in more ways than just coaching.

“He relates at all levels with the guys,” Eiter said.

He further explained that what makes Valenti such a great asset is his ability to help the younger wrestlers adjust both to the transition from high school and to the academic side of Penn.

On the other hand, Valenti can also help the upperclassmen who hope to have the same success that he had during his reign.

Penn will look to start off what looks to be a promising season with a trip to Binghamton, New York on Sunday for the Binghamton Open, where the squad will face other Ivy opponents including Princeton and No. 22 pre-season ranked Harvard.

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