When asked at the beginning of the wrestling season what his goals were, junior Scott Giffin had a lofty, albeit simple, aspiration.
“I want to be on the podium more than anything,” Giffin said at the time. “I want to be an All-American.”
On Friday night at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb., that goal became a reality.
After a first-round loss to the eventual 174-pound weightclass national champ, Jay Borschel, and three wins in the consolation round, the unseeded Giffin upset Oklahoma State’s No. 6 Mike Benefiel with a 3-1 victory to clinch the honors.
The match went right down to the wire, and Giffin’s two-point takedown toward the end of the final period made the difference.
But the Penn junior’s season was not over yet.
Though Giffin would go on to lose his next match in the consolation quarterfinals, he then defeated Northern Iowa’s Jarion Beets the next day by injury default at the four minute mark. The win earned Giffin seventh place overall.
The victory was the finishing touch on a long journey to the podium for Giffin, who first reached the NCAA Tournament two years ago.
“My first year … I wanted to be a qualifier, and I did that,” he said. “Last year I wanted to win a [NCAA Championship Tournament] match, and I did that.”
It seems only fitting then, that this would be the year Giffin gained the elusive honor.
Giffin’s performance headlined a weekend that saw the Berlin, N.J., native and five of his fellow Quakers compete on wrestling’s biggest stage.
The team’s combined performances yielded a 38th place finish out of 78 squads. Iowa took home the national crown, while Cornell came away with the second-place finish.
Juniors Bryan Ortenzio (133), Zack Kemmerer (141) and Gabe Burak (165), and freshman Micah Burak (197) all made their first trip to the Tournament. Of the four, Ortenzio and Burak were the only two able to come away with their first NCAA Tournament victories, as both went 1-2.
Meanwhile, senior co-captain Cesar Grajales (149) ended his Penn career in Omaha. After losing a first-round match to Oklahoma’s No. 3 Kyle Terry, Grajales moved into the consolation bracket, where he went 1-1.
And though the season-ending tournament signaled the end of the road for one of Penn’s best — Grajales’ 110 career wins ties him for fifth in school history — the postseason has given the recently struggling Penn program a boost.
For Penn coach Rob Eiter, both Giffin’s seventh-place finish and the team’s unexpected second-place finish in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships will help put Penn “back on the map.”
Eiter also said he expects Giffin’s victory to motivate the rest of the team and hopes it will spark interest in the Penn wrestling program.
For Giffin’s part, his taste of victory has left him hungrier than ever.
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