The Keystone Classic is always a special event, but this year the Quakers made it their own show.
Penn wrestling impressed in front of a packed Palestra crowd, with nine wrestlers earning top six placements in their respective weight classes, six of them being freshmen. This year’s showing marks a sharp increase from last year’s total of four medal winners, only one of whom returned.
In terms of team performance, the Red and Blue finished third in a stacked field with 108.5 points. 2018 national champions Penn State took home first place with 192 points, and University City rival Drexel just edged the Quakers for second with 109.5 points.
“I think we took a lot of steps forward today. I think we scored 50 percent more points than we did last year, and a lot of that productivity came from some new faces,” coach Roger Reina said. “This year was really more of a broad-based team effort.”
Although Penn didn’t have any individual weight class winners, the team had at least one wrestler place in each of the other medal spots.
Freshman Carmen Ferrante, fresh off a second-place finish at the Michigan State Open two weeks ago, once again finished runner-up at 125 pounds. Ferrante opened his day with pins of Harrison Campbell of Duke and Dante Mininno of Drexel before beating Nolan Hellickson from Harvard by a 7-3 scoreline.
In the finals, he faced Rider’s Jonathan Tropea, the highest-placing returner from last year’s event, but fell by the same 7-3 score. Although he wasn’t able to win first place for the home team, Ferrante still had Penn’s highest finish on the day.
Fellow standout freshman Anthony Artalona also came ready to wrestle, finishing in third place at 149 pounds. Just like at Michigan State, Artalona used offense to take control of his first matches, outscoring his first three opponents 42-9.
After a narrow 5-2 loss to eventual champion and Duke senior Mitch Finesilver in the semifinals, Artalona made his way through the consolation bracket to reach the third place bout, where he outmuscled Jarod Verkleeren of Penn State 4-2.
Four other freshmen wrestled their way to the medal podium, a reminder of the high-caliber recruiting class Reina brought in this year. Doug Zapf took fourth at 133 pounds, Grant Aronoff and Ben Goldin took fifth at 141 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, and Greg Bensley came in sixth at 197 pounds.
The rest of the team also performed well, with one wrestler from each of the other three years also placing in the top six.
Junior Jon Errico took fourth place at 157 pounds after the same finish last year, although he had to rattle off four straight wins to make it to the third place match after a loss in his first bout.
Wrestling at 165 pounds, sophomore Evan DeLuise also came in fourth place, and senior A.J. Vindici rounded out Penn’s placements with his sixth-place finish at 141 pounds.
“Our team had a great day today, not just a few individuals,” Ferrante said. “We all had a good showing for Penn, and we’re really starting to show that this movement is real, so I was happy with that.”
Reina agreed, noting that today’s performance is a move in the right direction for the team.
“This is a rung on the ladder,” he said. “People can climb really high one step at a time, so to me this is a good step that we need to stand up on.”
Quaker fans will be able to see just how high this team can climb as they enter dual meet season with matches away at Rider and home to Maryland in the coming weeks.