For some of Penn’s wrestlers, this weekend will mark the season’s end. For others, it’s just the beginning of the madness.
This weekend is the start of the postseason for the Quakers, so the team is getting set to take on wrestlers from 15 other schools in this weekend’s Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships.
For the Red and Blue (9-8, 2-3 EIWA) this is the equivalent of a conference tournament — only the highest placing wrestlers will move on to the NCAA championships on March 15-17 in Cleveland.
Returning this season after a twelve year break, coach Roger Reina is eager for his first EIWAs since 2005.
“I’m really excited going into this weekend, I think our team has done a terrific job all year long in terms of making improvements and building on their past experiences, and we expect that to continue going into this weekend,” he said.
If there’s one Penn wrestler to watch for this weekend, it would be senior captain Frank Mattiace, wrestling at 197 pounds.
At 24-5 on the season, he boasts the team’s best record. Last year, Mattiace was Penn’s first EIWA champion since 2013, and he will be looking to continue his success.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Mattiace said. “I’ve been working really hard this year, and I think it would just be a really nice way to end my career. I know that I put the work in but at this point I just have to wrestle.”
His path to victory won’t be easy — also in his weight class are a pair of freshmen that could shake things up. Princeton’s Patrick Brucki defeated Mattiace earlier this month in a dual meet, and Cornell’s Ben Darmstadt has an incredible 13 first-period pins this season, so both will be hungry to prevent Mattiace from going back-to-back.
Earlier this week, the team learned how many automatic bids for the NCAA championships would be earned from each weight class. The number of eligible ranked wrestlers determined each class’ number of bids, and along with Mattiace, fellow seniors May Bethea (165 pounds) and Joe Heyob (184) both contributed to earning a bid for their class by virtue of their rank and record.
This trio is familiar with the system, as they are Penn’s only returning wrestlers who competed in last year’s NCAAs. Bethea made it the furthest but all three earned at least one win, so this year they will have their hearts set redemption.
Heyob will have the benefit of being in the weight class with the most NCAA spots up for grabs this weekend. If he places anywhere in the top 7, he will automatically qualify for Cleveland’s championships for the second straight year.
Mattiace and Bethea, who is looking for his third straight NCAA bid, will have it slightly tougher and will have to place in the top six to lock down an automatic spot.
In the lightest weight classes, Penn’s talented freshman pair of Daniel Planta (125) and Gianni Ghione (133) will look to make some noise and earn a spot, but since their weight classes only have one and three automatic bids, respectively, their job will be much harder.
Still, Mattiace is optimistic about the team’s chances.
“Everyone on the team’s been working really hard this year and that’s what it comes down to, so I know it could be a little nerve-wracking, but the best thing to do is ignore all those nerves and just let it fly,” he said. “And I think as long as we do that, we should have a solid amount of guys go to the NCAAs.”
Penn's wrestlers have spent their entire season working towards this weekend. Win or lose, they're gonna leave it all on the the mat.