When the clock struck midnight and the new year was rung in this weekend, many Penn students were out and about. However, as they often do at this time of year, Penn’s wrestlers were preparing for one of the toughest tournaments of their season.
On January 1st and 2nd the Quakers competed in the prestigious Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There they squared off against 27 other collegiate programs. Nine of those 27 teams are currently ranked inside the top 20 tournament teams in the country, which means the Red and Blue surely feel satisfied with a tenth place finish in which they outpaced No. 19 Duke and perennial powers such as Virginia, Edinboro and Michigan State.
The high finish is also a significant improvement over their 19th place finish in 2014 and their 14th place finish at the Midlands Championships, an equally prestigious holiday tournament, last season.
While the crowded field was dominated by Penn State — who ran away with the team title — and second-place Oklahoma State, two Penn grapplers made headlines of their own.
Senior 174-pounder Casey Kent, fresh off of a hiatus during his junior season, defeated Brian Realbuto of Cornell, currently the nation’s top ranked wrestler at 174 pounds, en route to his third place finish. Undoubtedly these two will see plenty more of each other in the upcoming months. The first of these meetings will occur on February 13th when the Big Red visit the Palestra for a dual meet. If Kent is able to replicate his 8-5 victory, Penn may stand a chance to finally defeat archrival Cornell.
Kent’s impressive tournament also featured two technical falls, one of which was over nationally ranked Nick Wanzek of Minnesota. When all was said and done, five of Kent’s seven victories were shutouts and three of his seven were over ranked wrestlers. Kent’s lone blemish came at the hands of No. 2 Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State in a quarterfinal bout.
Just one weight class heavier, eighth-ranked Lorenzo Thomas put together a successful fourth place finish at 184 pounds. Both of Thomas’ losses were narrow defeats to prestigious wrestlers, further proving that the 2014 All-American could be right on the cusp of greatness. Of course, closing out those tight matches will be necessary if Thomas is to vault up the podium in March at the NCAA tournament.
Luckily, Thomas won’t have to wait too long to avenge his 5-3 semi-final loss to No. 4 Nate Brown of Lehigh. The Quakers host the Mountain Hawks on January 10th and the top ten matchup of 184 pounders will be the main attraction. Thomas will have the opportunity then to open the eyes of the NCAA selection committee and opposing wrestlers alike this upcoming Sunday.
Unfortunately the tournament did not go as well for other Penn grapplers. Senior 149 pounder C.J. Cobb, who had been rewarded with the number three seed for his impressive start that has seen his rise to No. 6 in the nation, did not make it on to the podium after dropping his third round matchup and his subsequent consolation bout. While Cobb’s disappointing finish meant he didn’t get a look at Lehigh’s Matt Cimiato, he too will get a chance record a statement victory on Sunday at the Palestra in the other top ten matchup of the day.
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Kent and Thomas’ performances this weekend showed the potential for Penn as they enter the new year. But, it will take a total team effort for the squad to make serious noise as the season hits full gear.
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