It may be a new year, but Penn wrestling’s performance at the Southern Scuffle was rather familiar.
There were familiar faces: Like in the Keystone Classic, junior 184-pounder Lorenzo Thomas submitted the Quakers’ most impressive performance, this time finishing sixth in his weight class against a stacked field. Freshman 125-pounder Caleb Richardson once again placed in tournament play, snagging Eighth in Chattanooga.
There was also a familiar outcome: Limited success and longing for better performances up and down the lineup.
Against a loaded field of 34 squads, including six of the top eight teams from the 2013 NCAA tournament, five of Penn’s 15 participating wrestlers made it to the Round of 16 and two – Thomas and Richardson – placed. The Red and Blue finished 19th overall.
“I think some of [our wrestlers] responded well,” coach Rob Eiter said.
“And I think it was a bit of an eye opener for some.”
Lorenzo Thomas, a No. 6 seed and Penn’s highest ranked wrestler, got off to a lackluster start, but he did not let that deter him from advancing deep into the tournament and notching Penn’s highest finish in the Scuffle.
Thomas trailed John Lampe of Chattanooga, 4-3, after one period in his first match, but gathered himself and mustered a 7-4 win. He followed his initial match with a more authoritative performance, getting a defensive fall over Oregon State’s Austin Morehead 2:04 into the bout.
“He’s one of the guys this year that we’re looking to score a lot of points for us, and to go a long way in the NCAA tournament,” Eiter said.
Thomas bested Matt McCutcheon of Penn State, 4-2, in the quarterfinals, which set up a semifinal showdown between the Penn junior and No. 1 ranked Penn State grappler Ed Ruth, a three time All-American. The force that is Ruth proved to be on another level, as he overpowered Thomas, 22-7, dashing his chances at a second tournament championship for the time being.
Thomas, sent to the consolation semifinals, dropped his match versus 12-seeded Brett Pfarr of Minnesota, 4-2. Another Golden Gopher, No. 2 seed Kevin Steinhuas, bested Thomas in his final consolation bout, 6-3, forcing a sixth place finish for the Pittsburgh native.
While Thomas would have liked to place higher, he created some valuable chances for himself to go against top-shelf competition.
“It was a good experience,” Thomas said. “It was nice wrestling with some of the best in the country. Now I know where I am.
“Going into the second half of the season, I know what I have to work on in order to compete with [the best].”
Richardson, who placed fourth at the Keystone Classic earlier this season, got off to an impressive start in the 125 pound bracket, winning his first two matches, 15-0 and 6-0, respectively.
The freshman ended his first match with a tech fall, notching some early bonus points for the Red and Blue, and earned his first career victory over a ranked opponent with his 6-0 defeat of No. 7 Corey Keener of Central Michigan.
However, Richardson’s championship hopes were dashed by No. 5 seed David Terao of American, who finished with a 4-3 edge in their Round of Eight bout.
Richardson then triumphed 9-7 in his first wrestleback over Pitt’s sixth-seeded Anthony Zanetta, which allowed the Virginia Beach native to finish eighth after he dropped his final two bouts.
“Caleb came in and had a really good tournament for us,” Eiter said. “It’s a great thing for him to build on because he’s been two years out of competition.
“He was pretty darn close to placing higher.”
All three Penn wrestlers who competed in the 2010 Scuffle – captain Andrew Lenzi, and seniors Harrison Cook and Steve Graziano – failed to win more than one match in this year’s tournament.
“I know some of the upperclassmen weren’t real happy with their performance,” Eiter said. “But they need to reflect and comeback and understand that although the score doesn’t show it, they did do some good things and that’s what we need to build on.”
While the Southern Scuffle revealed significant room for improvement, the Quakers have a lot to build on and plenty of time to get to where they want to be when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
“The only thing that matters right now is getting prepared for March,” Eiter said.
The Quakers will travel to Nebraska to face the No. 8 Cornhuskers on Jan. 11 to start their 2014 dual stretch.
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