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Senior Caleb Richardson will wrestle new competition in this year's Southeast Open after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2016.

Credit: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles , Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

Wrestling tights on and ready to go, Penn could not be more energized leading up to the first tournament of the year, the Southeast Open on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Hosted by Virgina Tech, the Southeast Open is one of the premier wrestling tournaments in the south. This marks the first year the Quakers will participate in event.

The Red and Blue will encounter some unfamiliar competition this weekend. Year to year, Penn's schedule heavily features a collection of east coast schools, but in Virginia the team will see a fair share of ACC teams. Teams like Virginia Tech, NC State and North Carolina boast strong programs according to coach Alex Tirapelle.

“As far as the level of competition that we face throughout the season, it’s pretty similar," Tirapelle said. "We wrestle a pretty good schedule, some good teams.”

It will be especially beneficial for veteran wrestlers such as All-American senior Casey Kent and NCAA Championship qualifier senior Caleb Richardson because they will see some new opponents.

Furthermore, it increases the likelihood of coming across a familiar opponent once the NCAA championships roll around.

Richardson looks to use this tournament as a springboard for this newest campaign to attain the All-American status that has eluded him. 

“I’ve been there three times and come up short," Richardson said. "I wouldn’t say [just qualifying for the tournament] is a success because every year I'm shooting to be on the podium and get top eight. That's the goal, that's the mission."

Besides Richardson and Kent, many other wrestlers can capitalize off a strong showing on Sunday. Heated races for starting spots in dual meets are also going to be affected. 

“We are going to take everyone who is able bodied," Tirapelle said. "We got some guys dinged up right now, so that’s not all that good, but we will be within our limits and take everybody that is able to wrestle."

This tournament differs from dual meets throughout the season because they are able to travel with up to 20 wrestlers as opposed to a typical dual meet, in which only one athlete in each of the ten weight classes gets to wrestle in scoring match.

In fact, two of those starting spots for dual meets are still up for grabs with the graduation of two-time NCAA qualifier CJ Cobb at the 149 pound weight class and All-American Lorenzo Thomas at the 184 pound weight class. 

“There are big shoes to fill. Big spots to fill,” Tirapelle said.

Thus the Southeast Open is especially important for wrestlers in weight classes of 149 and 184 pounds. Tirapelle currently believes junior Joe Oliva and freshman Jon Errico are the most likely front runners to replace Cobb. At 184 pounds, Tirapelle sees junior Joe Hayob, senior Carson Stack and sophomore Ryan Wosick as grapplers who will fight for time.

 “Carson Stack has some experience, all experience is good experience, but I would say he's going to have his hands full," Tirapelle said. "I would say him and Joe Hayob are the front runners for that weight class but you never know how things are gonna shake out, everybody develops at a different rate and crazy things happen throughout the course of the season.”

"it will play a part in determining quote on quote starters at the end of the year but it’s a small part," Tirapelle said of how the tournament will influence his lineup decisions going forward. "It's November and our conference tournament is the beginning of March so we’ve got a lot of development over the course of the season.”

With competition fierce and expectations sky high, Penn looks to make a strong showing in its first ever appearance at the Southeast Open.