It’s the end of the road for four Penn wrestling greats.
The Red and Blue brought four of its senior captains to the biggest stage in collegiate wrestling this weekend, the NCAA Championships in Cleveland. Despite tough competition, three of Penn’s wrestlers made the second day of the tournament, and one even reached the Round of 12, one win away from a spot on the podium.
Frank Mattiace, Joe Heyob, Joe Velliquette, and May Bethea all performed well enough at the team’s conference tournament two weeks ago to qualify for the NCAAs and a chance to compete against the best college wrestlers in the country. This trip marked Mattiace and Heyob's second national appearance, and the third for Bethea.
“Being in that environment with our athletes is a tremendous opportunity,” coach Roger Reina said. “I was really excited to be back on the floor in that intense competitive environment; it’s a great honor to be at that great level.”
Mattiace was the Red and Blue’s most successful wrestler at the tournament, earning his best national placement by reaching the Round of 12. Seeded No. 7 at 197 pounds coming in, he went 3-2 over the two days of the tournament.
A 6-4 loss to Chris Weiler of Lehigh knocked him into the consolation bracket, where he rattled off two straight wins, including a four-point defeat of the No. 15 seed, before he lost 6-4 to Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed, the No. 5 seed and eventual seventh-place finisher.
The Quakers’ pair of Joes both went 1-2 over the tournament, each recording a win in between two losses.
Heyob lost his opener to the No. 13 seed before pinning Keegan Moore of Oklahoma State in his first consolation match, sealing a spot in the second day of competition. In his second consolation match, he narrowly fell 6-5 to No. 14 Nick Gravina of Rutgers.
Velliquette similarly lost his first match to a ranked opponent, No. 8 Tyler Berger of Nebraska. He won his next match by a convincing score of 6-1 before losing 8-0 to No. 10 seed Markus Scheidel of Ivy League rival Columbia.
Bethea was the only Penn wrestler to fail to register a win after his first two matches ended in losses. After reaching the Round of 12 in last year’s tournament, Bethea was the first of Penn’s wrestlers to be eliminated after being drawn into two pigtail matches.
Despite what the results say, all four Penn wrestlers fought hard and earned their places in program lore, and Reina is content with their showing.
“It’s tough going, we lost some heartbreakers that we had opportunities to win, but we had some great successes, too,” he said. “All in all, it’s a very high level of competitive sports and I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”
Even though all of the Red and Blue’s NCAA participants will be graduating at the end of this year, the future looks bright.
“We’ve got a tremendous group of freshmen coming in; top-ten ranked recruiting class in addition to all of our returning guys,” Reina said. “I think it’s time to start writing the next chapter in our program, and we’re really excited about it.”
The next chapter will be one without this year’s seniors, but their careers will not soon be forgotten.