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Junior Joe Oliva had a huge weekend for Penn wrestling, winning his match in both meets this weekend, including a crucial 11-7 victory in the meet against American that helped snuff out a comeback attempt.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

A winning mentality.

Even more than skill, a habit of winning can prove vital when seasons drag on and endurance is put to the test.

For Penn wrestling, this past weekend served as a crucial opportunity to gain momentum heading into a stretch of important conference games.

The results? Mixed.

The weekend began with a trip to Lewisberg, Pa., to square off against Bucknell. The Bison (6-4, 3-1 EIWA) roared into the contest on the back of a three-meet win streak, including two against Ivy League compatriots Harvard and Brown. Notably, the Blue and Orange had not lost a meet to an unranked team all season. The Quakers (3-5, 1-4 EIWA) were also without star 174-lb weight class grappler Casey Kent due to illness.

Early in the meet, it seemed as if Penn could be the squad to break that trend. Wins by Joe Oliva, May Bethea and Brooks Martino to open the meet vaulted the Red and Blue to a 10-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Quakers, that’s as big as the lead got. After keeping the lead to 13-4, the Bison won five consecutive matches to take the meet, 22-13.

A critical moment in the meet came during the 125-lb weight class, when Bucknell’s Jordan Gessner edged Penn’s Jeremy Schwartz by a score of 6-5. The key call came in the third period, with the game still very much in balance, when Schwartz was called for an illegal hold after getting too deep on a front hold and being charged with a choke. The one-point proved the difference in the match, and the Bison pulled the meet back to a 13-13 tie with Gessner’s victory.

Although Bucknell was always going to be stiff competition, the Quakers will be disappointed that they were unable to hold on to the early lead.

Following the loss at Bucknell, the Red and Blue traveled home to the Palestra for a Sunday matinee against American. It was a meet the Red and Blue were favored to win, with the Eagles (3-5, 0-4 EIWA) having dropped their previous three meets, including a 31-3 drubbing in their last appearance against Lehigh. Still, the Quakers knew they would have to improve their ability to close out meets if they wanted to earn their first EIWA win.

Similar to the Bucknell trip, the Quakers got off to a hot start. Triumphs by Joe Velliquette, a returning Casey Kent, Joe Heyob and Frank Mattiace saw Penn holding a commanding 15-0 lead. However, the Quakers must have been having flashbacks to Friday’s collapse when American won the next four matches, pulling to within a point, 15-14. However, with Oliva and Bethea to close out the meet, Penn still had reason to be confident.

Crucially, Oliva scored two takedowns in the first period of his match against American’s Michael Sprague — a momentum killer for the visiting Eagles. Even when Sprague rallied late in the match, two more third-period takedowns from Oliva sealed the 11-7 win to add to the Quakers’ lead. Bethea followed Oliva’s win with an equally impressive performance of his own, rallying from an early 3-0 deficit to earn a meet-sealing 9-4 victory.

So where does this meet leave the Quakers? It’s hard to say for sure. With three straight Ivy matchups to follow, it was crucial to earn a first EIWA win on Sunday to gain momentum. However, the Red and Blue will still be upset that they were unable to hold the lead they built in Friday’s meet at Bucknell. Overall, Penn did not impress, but certainly did not disappoint.

This upcoming weekend’s meet against Harvard will serve as a real litmus test as to how far the Quakers have come. Hopefully, with the momentum gained from this weekend, Penn can give the Crimson a real battle — and hopefully come out with a win.