Legendary coaches come and go, but it’s rare they come back again.
Roger Reina, Penn wrestling’s winningest coach, returned to the program this season after a 12-year hiatus. Before stepping down as head coach in 2005, Reina spent 25 consecutive years with the program as a wrestler, assistant coach and head coach. In fact, he was named head coach only two years after graduating from Penn, making him the youngest coach in Division I wrestling at the time.
Penn wrestling constituted Reina’s entire adult life up to 2005. However, Reina wanted to pursue other passions.
In his time off, the eight-time Ivy League champion coach kept busy during his time away from the program. He worked in the early-stage technology sector as the Director of Business Development for Sports at Ticketleap, an online sales and event marketing company founded by Penn graduate Christopher Stanchak (W’03). He also spent time at Penn Medicine Development.
Aside from business, he also stayed involved with wrestling. In 2015, he returned to Penn Athletics to kickstart a Regional Olympic Training Center, working in coordination wth Drexel and Penn’s senior athletic administration.
Reina had no set plans to return to the collegiate ranks as a coach, but with Alex Tirapelle’s resignation last season, Penn was in the market for a new coach.
“When this opportunity was presented, it took a lot of thought to consider coming back to coaching again,” Reina said of how he grappled with the decision. “I really felt like it was a twice in a lifetime chance and a great honor.”
And just like that, he was back.
“There is a whole lot of excitement about what we can accomplish this year and for years to come,” Reina said of his programs promising start.
Additionally, the wrestlers, who Reina did not recruit, are responding favorably to their new coach.
“I think he has a unique way of communicating with everyone before their match because not everyone is the same,” sophomore Jake Lizak said. “Everyone needs their own personal method of getting ready.”
Furthermore, according to Lizak, practices are more focused on development and less concerned with the winning or losing.
“I feel like the biggest thing is he’s a visionary. He understands the Penn dynamic,” senior Joe Velliquette added.
Velliquete pointed out how his breadth of experience throughout Penn Athletics gives him an edge in managing his players and instilling a winning culture.
Penn has not won an Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association since Reina’s first stint in 1999. Wrestlers and Reina both agree that is the number one goal for the program is to return Penn wrestling to its former glory.
“Our program has a tremendous amount of tradition, there’s a great legacy and tradition to be apart of. To build on that is really exciting for me,” Reina said.
With Penn wrestling’s most proven winner back at the reins, the sky looks to be the limit for a program hoping to return to its former dominance.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.