For the first time in four years, Penn wrestling has an EIWA champion.
When the smoke cleared at the EIWA tournament, it turned out to be a hallmark performance for Penn wrestling and senior Frank Mattiace. The Quakers (6-8, 4-7 EIWA) did not end up with a high team score, but impressive individual performances led to four NCAA qualifications.
Mattiace was the only grappler from Penn to finish first in his weight class. Seniors Casey Kent and Brooks Martino both went far enough in the tournament to return to NCAAs. Kent made an appearance in 2016 and earned all-American accolades. Martino last made it to the national tournament in 2015. Junior Joe Heyob also nabbed a spot and will look to become an all-American.
All four reached this far through entirely different paths. Mattiace wrestled the first, second and third seeds in the tournament. In the semifinals and finals, Mattiace needed a tiebreaker period to pull out the victory, but he ultimately won all four of his matches this weekend. This marks the first time since 2013 that a Quaker has made it to the top of the podium in the EIWA tournament.
Kent’s path involved two technical falls in addition to a 1-0 victory in his third place match. His only loss of the weekend came against Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch, ranked second in the EIWA for the weight class. He returns to the tournament for the second consecutive year and will look to achieve all-American status once more.
The two of them have consistently led the Quakers throughout the regular season. Mattiace went 22-9 and Kent was 17-5 over the regular season. In that period, they often picked up bonus points with technical victories and falls.
Martino’s story is also impressive. An injury in 2014 derailed his sophomore season but he would return the following year to clinch a national tournament berth. After splitting time with Ray Bethea in 2016, Martino is the unquestioned starter and truly earned his upcoming trip to St. Louis. He took down the second and third seeds in the tournament to advance.
Finally, Heyob will represent the Quakers at 184 pounds. He started the season at 197 pounds but moved down a weight class for the second half of the season. Since then, he has been tough to take down, going 8-3 in his duals. It took a victory in his seventh place match to make it to the podium and qualify for nationals.
One of the notable names not to guarantee himself a spot in the national tournament is May Bethea. The 157-pound junior captain had two rough matchups against the fifth and fourth seeds, losing both. That meant an early exit from the conference tournament. Bethea, a regular season warrior for the Quakers, leads the team in wins against ranked opponents.
An unsuccessful tournament does not mean that Bethea’s season is over. His resume could be enough to get an at-large bid to the national tournament. Those results will be available on March 8, when the NCAA will also begin seeding the competitors in the tournament. Junior captain Joe Oliva could also fall into that bucket, who at one point was one of the Quakers’ most talented grapplers.
For the rest of the team, the EIWA tournament was likely their final appearance of the season. It is now time for the Quakers to rest up and get ready for their upcoming challenge, by far their biggest one yet: the NCAA tournament.