Turnover is an inherent part of sports, and that fact holds true at any level — but even more so in college.
In team sports such as football or basketball, schools are more flexible, as they usually can use their depth to replace players lost to graduation.
But in wrestling, a sport in which team performance is dependent on the individual success of the designated starters in each weightclass, ensuring this transition is a lot more difficult.
As Penn wrestling enters the 2013 offseason, the Quakers must prepare to lose two of their best senior grapplers: Mark Rappo (125 pounds) and Micah Burak (197).
Rappo, a two-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championship runner-up and NCAA Tournament Qualifier in 2011 and 2013, spent most of his four years helping Penn get a quick start to its duals, accumulating a 80-36 career record.
On the other hand, Burak was mostly responsible for closing out matches for the Quakers, and he did so brilliantly. The 2012 All-American, 2013 EIWA Champion and three-time EIWA runner-up (2010-12) was arguably Penn’s best wrestler in recent years.
For a program like 2013 national champion Penn State’s, which mostly lines up top-20 wrestlers and consistently attracts top recruits, losing a couple of athletes is not the end of the world.
But for the Quakers, turnover has, at times, proven to be difficult. When Rappo took last year off, his replacements at 125 were a combined 1-13 in duals. By comparison, Rappo only dropped one bout when he came back to start in each of the team’s duals this year.
Yet, this season, although disappointed in their finish after returning empty-handed from the NCAAs, the Quakers saw many young wrestlers step up, forecasting a bright future for the program.
At the end of last season, the Red and Blue faced the problem of replacing 2011 All-American Zack Kemmerer (141) and 2012 EIWA Champion Bryan Ortenzio (133).
But luckily for the Quakers, the next man up was right around the corner.
After missing most of his freshman campaign due to injury, sophomore C.J. Cobb — Kemmerer’s replacement at 141 — took the wrestling world by storm, ending the year as the EIWA runner-up and No. 10 seed at the NCAAs.
At 133, fellow sophomore Jeff Canfora — who also missed most of last year with a season-ending injury — overcame a middling start to his season to win nine of his last 11 bouts and finish fourth at the EIWAs.
If coach Rob Eiter and his staff can once again find new talent, either on the team or in recruitment, then the departure of Rappo and Burak won’t have too much of an impact on the team.
And it looks like the turnover will be smooth once again. According to Intermat, two top-100 recruits have already committed to Penn.
To make things even better, those two grapplers are expected to come in at 125 and 197 — Rappo’s and Burak’s respective weightclasses.
Hailing from Blair Academy in New Jersey, Frank Mattiace is 37th in Intermat’s Top 100 Seniors rankings and finished the year as the No. 2 at 195 pounds.
Meanwhile, Detroit Catholic Central’s Ken Bade is 12th at 126 and was ranked by Intermat as the 98th-best recruit in the country.
Both wrestlers have big shoes to fill, and young talent sure doesn’t make up for senior leadership.
But as the Quakers proved this year, graduation issues are only temporary.
For now, though, it’s back to training room for Eiter, Cobb and co.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a sophomore international studies and business major from Paris, France. He is a Sports Editor at The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at bagherzadeh@theDP.com.
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