For a group of Penn’s wrestlers, it’s not over just yet.
After competing at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships this past weekend, four seniors placed high enough in their weight classes to represent the Red and Blue in the NCAA Championships.
Frank Mattiace (197 pounds), May Bethea (165), Joe Velliquette (157), and Joe Heyob (184) will all get one final chance to represent Penn from March 15-17 on college wrestling’s biggest stage.
Mattiace and Bethea had already locked up their automatic qualification after Saturday’s matches by virtue of going 2-0 to open the tournament, assuring them of a top six finish in their weight class.
Velliquette and Heyob both opened 1-0 and earned the wins they needed on Sunday to reach the NCAAs, rounding out the Quakers’ lineup for the championships in Cleveland.
“A lot of days, weeks, and months go into a season, but for the seniors, it’s years of work through middle school and high school to get to college,” coach Roger Reina said. “It’s really a big body of work, so I’m really happy for these guys; they all earned their tickets.”
En route to a second-place finish, second-seeded Mattiace sailed through his first three bouts, winning by a combined score of 36-10 and avenging a loss to Princeton’s Patrick Brucki earlier this season with his semifinal victory. In the finals, he fell to top-seeded Ben Darmstadt of Cornell by a score of 10-0.
Bethea, also seeded No. 2, reached the semifinals before a narrow 3-2 defeat to Jonathan Schleifer of Princeton. Despite losing the third place match, his fourth place finish was enough to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs for the third straight year, the most national appearances of any active Penn wrestler.
Entering the tournament seeded tenth, Velliquette lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Markus Scheidel of Columbia, but pulled off some upsets in the consolation bracket to reach fifth place and his first NCAA appearance. Velliquette is also the first wrestler from his high school in Nixa, Mo. to qualify on the NCAA Division 1 level.
Heyob, who along with Mattiace and Bethea will be returning to the NCAAs after wrestling there last year, earned his spot by finishing seventh in his weight class. For any other weight class, this would not have been high enough to make it to Cleveland, but because of the talent of the 184 pound group, seven spots were allotted for automatic qualifiers.
Penn’s five other starting wrestlers went 0-2 on Saturday and were eliminated from the tournament at the first hurdle, but are still in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAAs. Wrestlers will learn of their final status this week so they will have time to prepare should they reach the national competition.
As a team, the Quakers finished in twelfth place out of 16 teams with a total score of 48.5 points, but with a surplus of young talent, the team will look for its score to rise in the coming years.
For the remaining wrestlers, Reina has a game plan for their time before the NCAAs.
“Once the brackets are released we’re gonna know who our competition is, so it will be a combination of recovering from this weekend, getting recharged and ready to compete at the national level, and individual match strategy preparation for each of our guys,” he said.
The NCAA Championships in less than two weeks may mark the end of the season and college wrestling for these four seniors, but they’ll be fighting to go out on a high note.