After stringing together strong performances in each of the early season tournaments, Penn wrestling looks to start off dual meet season on the right foot against a strong Rider team. Dual meets offer a different dynamic from Penn’s previous early season tournaments. In a dual meet, one wrestler from each side competes against one another in each of the ten weight classes.
At each weight class, a wrestler has seven minutes to defeat their opponent. However, not all victories or defeats are created equal. Winning by a fall, forfeit, default or disqualification is six team points. Winning by a technical fall, getting ahead of your opponent by 15 points, is five team points. Winning by a major decision, getting ahead of your opponent by eight to 14 points, is four team points, and a decision, only getting ahead eight points or less, is three team points according to the NCAA scoring guidelines.
With more emphasis placed on the team’s success as a whole, wrestlers often spend more of their downtime cheering on their teammates.
“For a dual meet when you have just one match it is kind of like a whole different mental state going into it,” senior All-American Casey Kent said. “You just have one match so you are literally going to give it your all. When you are not wrestling you are cheering on your teammates because it is a team thing.”
As for the team, it is also different for a coach in terms of strategy. “There is a smaller margin for error,” Penn coach Alex Tirapelle said. “There is strategy in terms of which guys we wrestle, and at which weight classes, based on matchups.”
Although the lineup against Rider is not finalized, it is expected to include a mix of veteran mainstays and talented underclassmen. As expected, seniors Kent, Frank Mattiace and Jeremy Schwartz will compete at 174 pounds, 197 pounds and 125 pounds respectively along with junior veterans May Bethea at 157 pounds and Joe Velliquette at 165 pounds. Tirapelle is unsure whether senior Caleb Richardson will be available at 133 pounds due to injury. If he cannot suit up, promising sophomore Tristan Devincenzo is the expected replacement.
Devincenzo could potentially join established sophomore starters AJ Vindici at 141 pounds and Tyler Hall at 285 pounds. Additionally, sophomore Ryan Wosick is competing with senior Quinton Hiles for the staring spot at 184 pounds. The 184 pounds weight class, already considered a question mark heading into the season, is especially wide open because junior frontrunner Joe Heyob could not keep his weight under the required limit and senior Carson Stack’s continues to deal with nagging injuries.
Conversely, junior Joe Oliva has griped the starting spot for 149 pounds after a tight battle with incoming freshman Jon Errico. The 149 pounds was also an unknown heading into the season. However, Oliva went 3-0 at their most recent tournament, the Journeyman Tussle, defeating Errico in the process. “He has initially, at this point in the season, preliminarily established himself as the starter,” Tirapelle said of Oliva. “He is wrestling well at the right time and has earned the right to be the starter.” Still, Tirapelle has been adamant that the situation is always fluid and that starting spots are never safe. Look for Errico to keep pushing Oliva all season.
However, the most intriguing matchup of the meet will be between Velliquette and Rider All-American Chad Walsh at 165 pounds. They have already faced each other twice this season, with Walsh getting the better of Velliquette in both matches. In their first matchup at the Southeast Open, Walsh defeated Velliquete by a decision. The next matchup was even worse for Velliquete as was pinned by Walsh on his home mat at the Keystone Classic. However, this fact has not deterred Velliquete’s resolve.
“I’ve scouted him over the summer, and both times I wrestled him I did not stick to the game plan,” Velliquete said. “I need to take him back down to the mat quickly instead of getting caught in scrambles. Stay under control, in my position, and dictate the action.” It remains to be seen whether Velliquete can learn from his mistakes and take down the All American in what would be a huge upset.
Aside from Villiquete, Bethea and Mattiace face particularly strong wrestlers in B.J. Flagon, No. 18 in the country, and Ryan Wolf, No. 12 in the country. This is nothing new, as Rider is traditionally a very solid wrestling program.
“This year they have a very good squad,” Tirapelle said. “They actually just got a few of their guys back. I think they are going to give us their best effort. They have several guys on their team that will be fighting to be All-Americans this year. If we are going to beat them we are going to need to perform well.”
With this in mind, the Quakers need strong performances across the board due to the depth and talent at Rider’s disposal. However, wrestlers are rarely known for their lack of confidence. “We should win, that’s my expectation going into it. We are definitely capable of doing it,” Kent said.
Hopefully for the Quakers, Kent’s assertion comes true this Saturday.