Here, opponents don’t fear anyone. Here, no one battles for six minutes, but seven. Here, no one cares about the six state championships, three state runner-ups and almost five hundred wins.
Welcome to college wrestling.
Last Sunday at the Palestra, Penn wrestling coach Rob Eiter announced a lineup that included a list of familiar faces — NCAA tournament qualifiers and nationally ranked seniors.
Eiter’s lineup also featured a group that at the beginning of the season may have seemed absurd to include. Scattered throughout were four freshmen — Canaan Bethea, Kyle Cowan, Andrew Lenzi and Brad Wukie — already well-seasoned and primed to carry the wrestling program forward as it hosts Harvard and Princeton this weekend at the Palestra.
“As I explained to them a few times this year, we were real excited about this particular class coming in because we saw our future,” Eiter said. “We expected them to be wrestling in Penn singlets for three or four years.”
Buried at opposite sides of the Quadrangle are two doubles shared by the future of Quakers’ wrestling. In one lives the physically imposing duo of Bethea and Cowan — the cartoon character of the group, according to Eiter — and in the other a pair of unassuming fighters in Wukie and Lenzi. Each is already making noise around the northeast wrestling circuit.
What began as a chance to train and compete under Eiter and his staff quickly transformed into an opportunity to learn on the fly.
“My junior and senior year I was confident that nobody would score a point against me — no one would beat me,” said Wukie, who owns a 7-11 record at 157 pounds. “Now that it’s college, you have to keep that confidence.”
From the outset of the season, only Cowan — who at 285 pounds stepped into a vacant role — was projected to be a starter. And he didn’t disappoint in winning November’s Keystone Classic.
Key injuries to Troy Hernandez (149 pounds-159 pounds) and Scott Giffin (174 pounds), however, have allowed all four to flourish in new roles.
“Stepping in is equal to having a starting spot because you’re wrestling and helping the team,” the 174-pound Bethea said.
“We can’t look at ourselves as freshmen anymore. We were recruited to be starters,” added Lenzi, who has moved up to 149 pounds this season. “That mentality will hurt us and was the reason for some of our losses.”
In addition to replacing some of the premier wrestlers in the country, the freshmen have also had to adjust to the steep learning curve of college wrestling.
They credited not only Eiter, but also assistant coaches Kyle Cerminara and former two-time NCAA Champion Matt Valenti for bringing intensity and a refined technique to the practice room. Most importantly, the freshmen have looked to many of their teammates for advice and inspiration.
Outside the practice room, the group is quickly becoming friends, but on the mat, they are all business.
“Losing in the Keystone tournament,” said Bethea, who is 14-11 this season, “and seeing the trophy on the other side helps motivate me.”Comments powered by Disqus
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