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Seeded No. 7 nationally in the 197-pound weight class, senior captain Frank Mattiace could make some serious noise at the NCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend.

Credit: Emily Xu

Penn men's basketball is not the only team competing for championships these days.

This weekend, Penn wrestling will send four grapplers to the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships following the automatic bids earned at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships last weekend.

The four wrestlers, all senior captains, are Frank Mattiace at 197 pounds, Joe Velliquette at 157 pounds, May Bethea at 165 pounds, and Joe Heyob at 184 pounds.

“These guys have done a tremendous job leading the team this year, on and off the mat,” coach Roger Reina said. 

Mattiace and Bethea have been the two strongest wrestlers record-wise this season. Mattiace is 24-5 (12-3 in dual meets) with wins over numerous ranked opponents, including South Dakota State’s Nate Rotert, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the country, two spots ahead of Mattiace. Bethea holds a strong 22-6 record (12-1 in dual meets). The senior has made a smooth transition after wrestling at 157 pounds last year.

Out of all the wrestlers going, Mattiace is the highest seed in his respective weight class at No. 7. In fact, no other Penn wrestler has received this high of a seed since fellow 197-pounder Micah Burak earned a No. 6 seed back in 2011. 

Furthermore, after the section show on Wednesday, each wrestler found out their opponents.

Velliquette will face the toughest matchup in No. 8 seed Tyler Berger out of Nebraska. Berger is 22-8 compared to Velliquette’s 12-12 record. Additionally, Velliquette is the only one of the four qualifiers who is not wrestling against an EIWA opponent in the opening round. Unlike the other wrestlers, he will have no prior experience to draw from when facing the returning All-American.

“This being Joe’s first trip to the NCAA [championships], it’s just super important that he stays focused,” Reina said. “The crowd here, the typical sessions are 20,000 people. It’s a big arena environment.”

Heyob is facing off against another strong opponent in Binghamton’s Steven Schneider. Schneider is the No. 13 seed in the tournament and has had his way with Heyob in the past, winning all three of their previous duals. 

Bethea is facing Lehigh’s Gordon Wolf, against whom he holds a 1-1 career record, winning their only matchup this year in a thrilling 11-9 overtime decision at the EIWAs. Like Bethea, Wolf has also wrestled at different weight classes, spending time in the 157-pound and 174-pound weight classes in the 2015-2016 season.

Finally, senior leader Mattiace will be heavily favored against Army’s Rocco Caywood, who Mattiace has already handily defeated in two duals over the course of their careers. 

Still, their coach had a message for each of the four wrestlers.

“For every wrestler that takes the mat during these championships, it is really important to have that competitive spirit and brave heart to step into this national championship level.” 

While Mattiace and Bethea are the most likely to reach the top of the podium, do not sleep on the other wrestlers as each looks to etch its name into the history books this weekend. 

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