In the yearly Battle of 33rd Street, Penn wrestling came agonizingly close to taking back neighborhood bragging rights.
For the fourth straight year, Drexel came out on top of the annual contest between the University City rivals, holding off a late charge from the Quakers to prevail by a 16-15 score on Sunday at the Palestra.
Kicking things off with a bang for the Red and Blue (1-3, 0-1 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) at 157 pounds, senior Joe Oliva took part in the only rematch from last season’s 30-9 win for Drexel (4-4, 1-1), facing off against the Dragons' Evan Barczak one year after beating him by a 10-7 score.
Despite falling behind 3-1 after two periods on Sunday, Oliva rallied with a late takedown in the third and another one in overtime to come out on top 7-5, earning the Quakers three team points right off the bat.
"My focus was to wrestle my match for seven minutes and keep scoring points," Oliva said. "It's really important for the first guy to set the tone, so it was good to start off with a win for the team."
After losing the first bout, Drexel rattled off three consecutive decisions — wins by fewer than eight individual points — to surge ahead to a 9-3 lead.
Penn closed the gap to three points and picked up its second win of the day at 197 pounds, where freshman Greg Bensley led Drexel’s Derek Rose 3-0 after one period and never looked back. The rookie coasted to a 6-0 result and earned a nice birthday present in the form of his first career dual meet win at the Palestra.
The Dragons extended their lead to 13-6 after the mid-match intermission, when Penn freshman Ben Goldin fell to No. 20 Joey Goodhart at heavyweight by a 11-3 major decision.
Freshman standout Carmen Ferrante kept the Red and Blue within striking distance by winning 8-4 at 125 pounds, but fellow first-year Doug Zapf’s ensuing 7-2 loss at 133 meant the home side was on the brink of defeat.
With Penn down 16-9 and only two matches remaining, the team needed to win both to have a chance for a positive result.
Just when all looked lost, the Quakers got a lifeline through senior AJ Vindici. Down 3-1 in the closing seconds of his match at 141 pounds, Vindici took Drexel’s Nick Widmann down and added two back points as the buzzer sounded, enough for a stunning 5-4 win that pulled Penn within four points of the Dragons and lit up the home section of the crowd.
"AJ has tremendous heart," coach Roger Reina said. "It was a great example of wrestling to the last second and the amazing things that can happen when you give yourself that chance."
It was up to Penn’s highest ranked wrestler, No. 14 Anthony Artalona, to try to secure the team win for the Red and Blue. However, the freshman was largely held in check by Drexel's Parker Kropman despite his aggressive style of play. The match went into sudden victory deadlocked at 4-4, and although Artalona eventually prevailed by a 6-4 score, the team win fell out of reach by a single point.
The Quakers may have not beaten their nearest foe, but the strong performance of their largely young cast should be encouraging to fans. Six of Penn's 10 wrestlers were rookies, and half of that group had their arms raised, so these new faces will undoubtedly play a part in the success of this squad in the coming years.
"I think our guys wrestled with more intensity and fighting spirit here today than last week at Duke, so that's a positive," Reina said. "But it's bittersweet to let our chance to win slip away."
The Red and Blue continue their EIWA duals this coming week when the team travels to face Binghamton on Friday and returns to Philadelphia to host Army West Point on Sunday.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.