Can the Quakers step up to the challenge?
That question will be answered this weekend, as Penn wrestling faces Ivy League competitors Cornell and Columbia on Saturday.
Against Ivy League foes specifically, the Red and Blue (8-5, 4-4 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) are currently 1-1 as they come off a grueling weekend on the road, with a loss at Brown and a shocking comeback win against Harvard. Regardless of the outcomes, coach Roger Reina and the team value the lessons and experiences that the team gains from these conference dual meets.
“Every single point counts," Reina reflected.
That being said, this is an especially pivotal weekend for the Quakers, as they have the opportunity to dictate how the remainder of their season will go. Building their momentum will not be easy though, as Cornell (9-2, 4-0) is proving to be a powerhouse yet again this season.
Penn will face both teams at the Palestra — the Quakers take on the Big Red at noon, followed by the Lions at 2 p.m. Cornell will be coming off of a match at Drexel the night before, while Columbia will be coming in from a match at Princeton on Friday night. Penn, however, will be fresh and rested going into the weekend.
Having these matchups held at the Palestra will be especially significant for the seniors, as this is the last home meet of the season. The senior meet will be sentimental for the team’s six captains: May Bethea, Joe Heyob, Marc Mastropietro, Frank Mattiace, Joe Oliva, and Joe Velliquette.
“They are a really talented group and they make up almost half our team," freshman standout Gianni Ghione said. "They are great leaders and have been instrumental in our team's success thus far.”
Cornell, the 11-time defending Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion, has been dominant in Ivy League play this season, destroying Brown, Harvard, and Columbia. Additionally, the Big Red are riding the wave of a five-match win streak.
The matchup will be a testament to the strength of Cornell, as Penn lost to Brown and barely beat Harvard last weekend.
Interestingly enough, Cornell has a 16-year win streak within the Ivy League. Their most recent loss was at the Palestra in 2002, when Penn beat the Big Red.
Columbia (3-10, 2-5) and Penn may prove to be a more analogous matchup, but in both showdowns, there are a handful of key matchups that will be decisive for Penn.
Notably, Mattiace will be squaring off against Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt. They have met twice before, and Mattiace has won both times. Currently, Darmstadt is ranked No. 3 nationally, and his only loss this season was to Mattiace.
Bethea is looking for redemption as he takes the mat against Cornell’s Jon Jay Chavez. They have met once before, where Chavez beat Bethea 5-2.
Oliva, of the 149-pound weight class, is riding a six-match win streak going into this weekend. He will be taking the mat against a pair of strong foes in Cornell’s Will Koll (6-2 on the year) and Columbia’s Jacob Macalolooy (15-10).
“Going into this meet, we know that we are the underdogs," Reina said. "But, we are in a city that is celebrating underdog Super Bowl champions. We’re excited.
“Whatever happens in individual matchups, people are going to have to respond very quickly in order to move onto the next round. These two matches back-to-back are an opportunity to grow.”