Penn wrestling has a full slate this weekend as it faces one of the nation's elite in No. 8 Lehigh and a tough Lock Haven team. Naturally, the main focus is on Lehigh. Besides the top ranking, Lehigh is also one of Penn’s biggest rivals based on common division — both are in the EIWA — and proximity.
The Quakers are confident off the heels of a come from behind victory against No. 17 Stanford. However, Lehigh is an entirely new challenge.
Just two of the Mountain Hawks' 10 projected starters are ranked outside the top-20 for their respective weight classes. Moreover, all eight of the team's ranked grapplers are ranked above their EIWA divisional foes from Penn.
For the Quakers, only No. 15 senior Frank Mattiace is ranked above his opponent. Even senior No. 10 Casey Kent is not favored in his match against No. 6 Ryan Preisch.
As was the case last weekend, the Quakers will have options at the 165-pound weight class. With a pair of capable competitors in junior Joseph Velliquette and senior Brooks Martino, coach Alex Tirapelle is confident in whichever wrestler he decides to put in.
Upon returning at the onset of 2017, Martino fought hard to get the starting nod against Stanford. He would not disappoint, taking down No. 18 Keaton Subjeck, 6-5, en route to a narrow Penn victory. Martino has started three dual meets to Velliquette’s one, a losing effort. The decision isn't so simple, however: Martino is 2-1 while Velliquette boasts a strong 14-8 record on the season.
The Quakers are also looking for more production from the 133-pound weight class. With senior Caleb Richardson done for the year as a result of ongoing injuries throughout the season, sophomore Tristin DeVincenzo has become a fixture in the starting lineup at 133. So far, DeVincenzo has struggled – 0-2 in dual meets and 1-7 overall. Still, he seems to be turning a corner after a promising match against Army where he narrowly missed a takedown in the final 30 seconds.
“He needs to keep taking those baby steps forward,” Tirapelle said.
The Quakers head into this week's matches with momentum. After all, the win over Stanford provides the blueprint for how to take down a ranked opponent.
“We had some guys on the fence who thought we could beat Stanford if everything went right,” Tirapelle said. “But once you actually accomplish it you can say you can beat a team at this level.”
The potential for a season-changing win is right at Penn’s fingertips. A win over Lehigh would set the stage nicely for EIWAs in March.
“They are a storied program of success and pretty local, it’s a good rivalry and it will be another good benchmark, just as Stanford was, to see where we’re at,” Tirapelle said.
The match against Lehigh is important, but the Quakers still have to deal with Lock Haven in a match they can ill afford to lose. That affair is unique in its own right, with gymnastics simultaneously competing with wrestling in the Palestra. The event, set for Saturday at noon, is being dubbed “Beauty and the Beast.” While many other universities have put on similar events, Saturday marks the first time that such an occasion will take place in the Palestra.
The Quakers are set for a busy week. Lock Haven will surely be a challenge, but Lehigh, Friday's matchup, is still the main focus. Clearly, the team is more amped for its dual with Lehigh.
“The one on Friday will be what everyone is excited for, probably more excited [than the Lock Haven match].” Tirapelle said. “For our guys we really need to be focused on Lehigh this week.”
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