Another week, another outstanding showing from the Quakers.
This past Sunday, Penn wrestling hosted 11 other teams in an electric Palestra filled with fans from all over the East Coast for the annual Keystone Classic.
Facing off against a highly competitive field, including No. 1 Penn State, the Red and Blue refused to crack under the pressure, with three Quakers making the finals of their respective weight classes.
This was Penn coach Roger Reina’s first Keystone Classic in twelve years after leading the Quakers from 1986-2005 before coming back this year. However, hosting the Nittany Lions made this one stand out.
“Having the defending NCAA champions here really changes the field,” Reina said of Penn State. “We’ve had some really great teams compete in the Keystone Classic over the years, but this is one of the most dominant teams, probably in any sport, in the NCAA right now.”
Following up his first place win at the 197-pound weight class in last week’s Bearcat Open at Binghamton, senior Frank Mattiace continued his great form. He dominated in his early matches, one of which featured a victory by pin in less than a minute, before losing a heartbreaker to Penn State’s Anthony Cassar 7-4 after keeping it even until the final seconds.
Also reaching the finals and improving on their finishes from last week were fellow seniors Joe Velliquette (at 157 pounds) and May Bethea (at 165).
Velliquette won his first three matches by a combined score of 19-5 before being pinned by defending NCAA champion and nationally top ranked Jason Nolf of Penn State to finish in second place in his weight class.
“I speak very highly of Joe Velliquette; he wrestled the defending NCAA champion and he gave himself opportunities to score,” Reina said. “I thought he represented himself really well in that match. It didn’t come out his way, but I thought that was a big growth experience for him.”
Also at 157 pounds, sophomore Jon Errico fell to Nolf early in the day before advancing through consolation wrestlebacks to reach the third place match, where he fell 11-2 to Shayne Oster of Northwestern.
Like Mattiace and Velliquette, Bethea also won his three opening matches, including one pin, to reach the finals against top-seeded Chad Walsh of Rider. Despite a late comeback effort from Bethea, Walsh held the lead throughout the final and won 6-2 to hand Bethea the silver.
Other wrestlers who finished in the top eight of their class were freshman Dan Planta (at 125 pounds) and senior Patrik Garren (at 285), both of whom placed last week as well.
“We had a number of other guys who really made a lot of progress this tournament, particularly Patrik Garren, our heavyweight,” noted Reina. “He avenged a loss against an NCAA qualifier from last weekend, and he turned around to beat that opponent this weekend; that’s the kind of improvement that we want to see.”
Even though a few Quakers, such as last week’s placer Jake Lizak and captain Joe Oliva, stumbled in the morning rounds and did not make it to later matches, Reina is positive about how the team responded to their early setbacks.
“Our guys could have packed it up, they could have really put their head between their legs, but they didn’t. They fought back, they put a lot of points on the board. We scored more points this year than last year’s Keystone, and they showed a lot of resiliency coming back.”
The Red and Blue now have a few weeks off before they face Rider in a home dual meet on December 1.