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Following a breakout season at 149 pounds, senior Joe Oliva is ready to lead Penn wrestling as a captain this year — but he won't be going about the challenge alone.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

You could call them the Superior Six.

Seniors May Bethea, Joe Heyob, Marc Mastropietro, Frank Mattiace, Joe Oliva, and Joe Velliquette might not look like the most uniform group of guys. Their weights vary from 140 to 200 pounds and everywhere in between — and yet their uniformly strong leadership elevates them above the rest.

Unusually high in number, this year’s Penn wrestling captains are bringing a lot of different perspectives to the team. Distinguishing themselves by the way they compete and their guidance philosophy, each captain strives to provide as much support as possible to a sport where only two guys are allowed in the ring: you and your opponent.

The diverse skillset of each captain has worked well so far, creating an environment where each individual captain's weaknesses are complemented by another’s strengths. Although the team dropped a close match to Rider this past Friday 15-19, the captains’ ability to motivate each other and distribute that enthusiasm to the team proved big in three huge wins versus Campbell, The Citadel and Hofstra just two days later. Oliva and Mattiace both agree that the combination of the captains' abilities make a difference for the team as whole.

“I can’t get better without my teammates,” Mattiace said, noting that most of a captain’s job happens in the training room. “We can create a synergy for the team,” Oliva followed with.

In wrestling, according to Oliva, success isn’t measured by the win-loss columns, but by the team’s competitive nature as a whole. If one guy isn’t approaching a matchup with a winning mindset, then the whole team is off-kilter, and it’s the captains’ job to provide balance.

“It’s a long season, so it’s a matter of us staying consistent,” Oliva said. Coach Roger Reina supplemented this statement, talking to the mental toughness needed for the road ahead. “There’s still a lot of leading to be done.”

One’s role as a captain isn’t just ensuring that one’s teammates improve, but it also includes communicating with coaches and updating them on the progress of the team as a whole. This dual responsibility isn’t as easy as it might seem, and one’s success at it further proves their ability to motivate and lead the team. Reina, in this respect, sees something special in this year’s captains.

“These guys have done an exceptional job at managing that balance,” he said.

Bethea, Heyob, Mastropietro, Mattiace, Oliva and Velliquette are going to have to maintain their momentum because Penn wrestling is about to face its toughest stretch yet. Next, the Quakers face No. 5 Lehigh right after classes end, and then they go on to the Midlands Championship, which falls only below the NCAA Tournament in terms of competitiveness.

This next stretch is going to be telling of how this group of six is going to be remembered. Although they have showcased their ability to lead a team through adversity, they still have a lot ahead of them clearly, and, therefore a lot of room to grow.

“Their leadership these next four weeks is going to be really critical,” Reina said. When asked about the mark this group is going to leave, Reina paused, and then went on to say, “Those chapters remain to be written.”

Every single captain has something unique to offer to this Penn wrestling team: Heyob’s steady yet tough demeanor, Mattiace’s offensive versatility, Oliva’s example in intense matches, Velliquette's above-the-rest hard work, Hethea’s thoughtful intensity, and Mastropiestro’s heroics. It will be up to them to use these talents to guarantee a strong finish for this team.

Because this is just the start.