“We’re just trying to get better every day.”
At first glance, some of the early-season competitions for Penn wrestling may seem lackluster in importance and potential reward. However, as junior May Bethea asserts, small improvements over the course of these competitions are essential to getting where the team wants to be come the Ivy League season and the NCAA Championships.
After a couple tournaments to begin the year and shake off some offseason rust, the Quakers are preparing for a trip to Long Island to compete in the Journeyman Tussle.
This is the first time the event has been held; the tournament notably features a round-robin format, meaning there is no bracket-style progression to a championship match like in other competitions. One of the advantages of this tournament style is that it guarantees each wrestler a certain number of matches, which in turn ensures each competitor an ample amount of experience.
The competition the Red and Blue will see in New York is primarily foreign to Penn — only Brown could be considered a usual foe. All other schools present, including North Carolina State, Rutgers, Campbell, the Citadel and hosts Hofstra, will offer a fresh set of challenges for Red and Blue wrestlers to tackle.
In particular, NC State and Rutgers are top-15 programs that will surely, if nothing else, provide valuable experience for the Quakers’ grapplers.
“It’ll be a good opportunity to see how we stack up against some of the better teams in the country,” Penn assistant coach Mike McMullan said. “It’s important to get our guys some exposure to different wrestlers.”
The last time out, Penn experienced modest success at the Keystone Classic, with Bethea and senior Frank Mattiace the standout performers for the Quakers.
For the sake of the Penn squad, it is imperative that those two continue to perform at a high level and carry their success into this weekend and beyond.
“I know that individually improving is the most important thing,” Bethea said. “Coach talks to us all the time about how it’s not how good we are today but how good we are tomorrow that matters.”
“We just need to keep practicing right and having the right mindset,” Mattiace added. “We make sure we’re just focusing on the task at hand, which right now is this weekend’s competition.”
Both Bethea and Mattiace will have their work cut out for them this weekend. In particular, Bethea will likely see two top-ten wrestlers from his 157-pound weight class in NC State’s Max Rohskopf and Rutgers’s Richie Lewis. So it’s fair to say the results from this weekend will provide an accurate measuring stick as to how far Bethea has progressed this season.
One of Penn’s top wrestlers, senior Casey Kent, is slated to return to action at the Journeyman Tussle. For a Quakers team that could use a spark, the return of Kent could not come at a better time. Although there are some questions about how effective Kent will be in his first action of the season, McMullan was quick to dispel any worries.
“Casey has been preparing diligently,” McMullan said. “He has remained focused and disciplined like he always has been. I wrestled him today and he put a whooping on me, so if he wrestles like that this weekend, he’ll be more than fine.”
When further probed about Kent possibly being a bit rusty, McMullan maintained that the senior’s experience overrides any possible rust.
“If anything, I think he’ll be fresh, not rusty,” McMullan said. “When you’re a senior and have wrestled in dozens of collegiate competitions already, you don’t need the early-season tune-ups that some of the younger guys might need.”