New head coach, no problem.
In Roger Reina’s first competition in charge of the Quakers since 2005, Penn wrestling put up a strong showing in the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open at Binghamton University this past Sunday, with eight of its fourteen wrestlers placing in their respective weight classes.
The Quakers’ competition included four other Ivy schools as well as teams from as far away as Iowa and Virginia, and featured wrestlers from the top ranked wrestling program in the nation, Penn State.
Highlighting the Red and Blue’s success was nationally-ranked Frank Mattiace, who won all five of his matches - including three pins - to take home first place at 197 pounds. In his final, he soundly defeated Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt with a major decision result of 14-6.
“Frank did a good job. He beat a familiar opponent in the semifinals, a kid from Cornell that he had wrestled in the NCAA tournament, and he won in pretty dominant fashion in the final match,” Reina said.
Penn wrestlers May Bethea (165 pounds) and Joe Heyob (184), who were also ranked in the preseason, made the semifinals in their weight classes along with Patrick Garren (285 pounds). Bethea took third place for the Red and Blue while Heyob and Garren finished in fourth.
Penn’s four other placers were two freshmen, Daniel Planta (eighth at 125 pounds) and Gianni Ghione (sixth at 133), as well as sophomore Jake Lizak (eighth at 141) in his college debut due to injury last season, and senior Joe Velliquette (fifth at 157).
“It’s a good gauge to see the things we’ve been working on in practice and how they’re transferring into competition," Reina said. "I think overall we’re very encouraged but we’re also seeing a lot of potential for continued improvement, and that’s very exciting."
The Quakers’ team performance featured great debuts on the college level from newcomers Planta and Ghione, with the two of them combining for eight total wins on the day. Ghione matched Mattiace’s pin count at three, including two that came under a minute into their respective matches.
Reina noted Ghione’s perseverance against one wrestler in particular.
“Gianni lost to a ranked guy early on, and then turned around to beat him later in the tournament, so that was a really important win in terms of Gianni really making a name for himself, especially as a freshman," Reina said. "The key thing is to show that improvement even over the course of the tournament; that’s the kind of progress and development we’re looking for across the team."
Overall, the freshman class starred in its first-ever college tournament, compiling a 11-7 record for the day and scoring impressive wins, plus recording five of Penn’s ten pins throughout the day.
As for Reina, who had previously coached the Red and Blue from 1986 to 2005, returning to the coaches’ corner today was memorable.
“It felt great, it was really fun and exciting to see the team get into action together today," Reina said. "I was really pleased with how we’ve been developing in the preseason, but it’s always a different test when you get out into competition and I think our guys responded really well today."
Reina and the team look to build on their early success this upcoming Sunday as Penn hosts 11 other teams for the legendary Keystone Classic.