David couldn’t topple Goliath.
Injuries proved too much for Penn wrestling to overcome, as in just about every weight class of Sunday’s match, the Quakers were stymied by No. 5 Lehigh and fell by a score of 41-6. Although the Red and Blue (3-2) briefly held the lead at 6-5 after two bouts, Lehigh (5-1) scored 36 unanswered points to close out the match.
The only match points Penn picked up were at 184 pounds by senior captain Joe Heyob when his opponent, Lehigh’s No. 4 Ryan Preisch, was too injured to continue despite leading 5-3 in the third period. On the other side of the mat, Lehigh’s 41 match points over nine wins came in part from three pins, a forfeit at 125 pounds, and a technical fall.
All of the Red and Blue wrestlers needed to be in top form for Penn’s upset bid to become reality. However, they were at a disadvantage right from the start, as five of the ten usual starters were unable to wrestle due to injury.
Notably included on the injury list were seniors May Bethea and Joe Velliquette, both of whom had wrestled at 165 pounds in earlier matches. Also missing were two wrestlers who had placed in earlier tournaments, as freshman Dan Planta at 125 pounds and senior Patrik Garren at 285 pounds were injured.
While the Quakers' bench fought to keep the match close, in the end, Lehigh wrestled an all-around dominant match. Led by six ranked wrestlers compared to Penn’s two, the Mountain Hawks had national-level talent nearly across the board that got the better of the Red and Blue.
“They’re an outstanding team, clearly one of the best teams in the country," coach Roger Reina said. "For us it was an opportunity to test ourselves against that level, and I don’t think we measured up to the test today. Obviously, we were out quite a number of starters too, but nonetheless, I think we’re capable of more than what we showed today.”
Another key factor Lehigh had on their side was in-match momentum. Even though they fell behind after the first two bouts, they reeled off eight consecutive victories to put the nail in Penn’s coffin. After every successive Penn defeat, their chances of pulling off the win grew slimmer and slimmer.
“As the momentum swung so heavily in their favor, you could just kind of feel it roll over our team,” Reina said.
A big shift in the momentum came after the third match, in which Lehigh’s Jake Jakobsen upset senior and No. 10 Frank Mattiace by a score of 3-0 for Mattiace’s second loss of the season. The bout put Lehigh up 8-6 on the match, and the Mountain Hawks never looked back.
Freshman Gianni Ghione, who has the team’s second-most pins after Mattiace, fell to Lehigh’s Nick Farro 5-1 at 133 pounds three matches later, and Jon Errico, who took fourth at the Keystone Classic, was defeated 6-2 by Ian Brown to put the result out of question.
Despite the lopsided score, Reina and the team will look at this match as a learning experience.
“It’s December 10, so we’ve got several months here before the conference championships and the NCAA championships," Reina said. "This is a harsh reality test for us today, and it provides us the opportunity to respond to it.”
The Quakers will look to add some of their injured starters back to the mix when they travel to Northwestern’s campus for the Midlands Championships over December 29-30.