Expect big things from the wrestlers in the Class of 2022.
Penn wrestling coach Roger Reina has done it again, drawing attention from all across the nation by bringing in one of the strongest recruiting classes the program has seen in years.
This season has seen 13 freshmen join the program, one of the largest classes in the Red and Blue’s history and more than enough to field their own squad.
Not only does the freshman class provide new wrestlers able to practice and improve with the team as a whole, but it has also garnered accolades coming into the season from many experts.
Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine ranked the Red and Blue freshmen as the No. 12 recruiting class in the country, and TheOpenMat.com had them as No. 13, putting Penn on the national radar early in the year. But while preseason hype can be good, the team's focus is on improvement.
“The fact that it happened pretty quickly has been really encouraging,” Reina said. “I think the rankings are really important and indicative of how people are viewing the program, but what’s more important is how those athletes develop.”
Reina is not new to the attention associated with having a quality freshman class, however, having done so consistently when he previously served as the team’s head coach from 1986-2005. Between 1993 and 2004, six groups Reina brought to Penn were ranked nationally in the top 20, including the top-ranking recruiting class of 2002.
This year’s rookies come in with some impressive accolades, earning a combined 11 state/national prep championships and 26 state/national prep placements in high school.
Quaker fans have already seen the potential of this class in the Michigan State Open two weeks ago. Rookies Anthony Artalona and Carmen Ferrante captured first and fifth in their respective weight classes, and all nine of the competing freshmen won at least one match at the tournament.
When searching for wrestlers to bring to the program, Reina first looks for a match academically, then how the new athletes would fit with the team. He makes sure to cast his recruiting net wide, looking especially at the Mid-Atlantic region. Reina also isn't afraid to branch out across the nation, recruiting from as far away as Oklahoma and California this year.
“Penn is the kind of school where we can recruit anywhere in the country,” Reina said. "When you’ve got outstanding young men and a great fit between what they’re interested in doing and what Penn has to offer, it makes tremendous sense to recruit them as well.”
For the wrestlers themselves, there were a host of factors that drew them to the Red and Blue, one of the most important being the quality of teaching they would receive as student-athletes.
“Initially, I narrowed my schools to the top engineering schools, and as I got to meet the coaching staff and got to see the wrestling program, Penn ended up being the best fit wrestling-wise and academically,” Artalona said.
Not many programs can offer the combined athletic and academic rigor that Penn can, and even fewer can say they have a coach with over 20 years of experience on the job.
Central to Reina’s program are the five core pillars he bases his coaching on: character, aiming big, humility, enjoyment, and community matters.
“Those values are what we believe in and how we conduct ourselves, how we attempt to make decisions and how we recruit,” he said. “We’re really clear about communicating those as important aspects of the program.”
It’s exactly these objectives that have attracted many wrestlers to the program. When the whole team buys in to the ideology, the wrestlers can work that much better as a unit.
“I saw a lot of the same values in Coach Reina that I saw in my high school coach, so I felt very comfortable with him,” Ferrante added.
With a star-studded freshman class to bolster the team for years to come, Reina and his wrestlers are ready to take this season on one meet at a time.