That was the word coach Roger Reina stressed when talking about his young Penn wrestling squad after they were defeated by Cornell and Columbia in consecutive Ivy League dual meets this weekend.
Keeping pace with No. 10 Cornell (11-2, 5-0 Ivy), the defending Ivy League champions, was always going to be tough task for the Red and Blue (3-7, 2-2). With five wrestlers ranked top 10 nationwide in their respective weight classes, the Big Red remained undefeated in the Ivy League after beating Penn and are favored to extend their streak of 16 straight Ivy League titles for one more year.
Moreover, the Quakers came into this weekend undermanned, as freshmen and regular starters Carmen Ferrante and Grant Aronoff, as well as senior Joe Oliva, were all hit by illness.
“They’re big losses,” Reina said. “Obviously Carmen [Ferrante] is a big loss with his 18-5 record, but it’s the same with Joe Oliva. To not have your senior captain in the lineup, from a leadership standpoint as well as an individual performer standpoint."
In the trio's absence, Penn was unable to gain any sort of momentum. Instead, the Big Red came out blazing hot, scoring in double-digits four times and recording two pins, beating the visiting Quakers by a demoralizing score of 40-3. The Quakers’ lone win came courtesy of freshman Anthony Artalona at 149 pounds, edging out his opponent in an overtime thriller by a 5-3 score.
However, Artalona’s six-match winning streak would come to an end Saturday afternoon against Columbia (6-3, 1-1). Without a few key performers, Reina was forced into a series of tactical changes.
Both Artalona and Aronoff, who recovered in time to face the Lions, were bumped up a weight class. When asked about these changes, Reina credited his team for answering his call.
“It takes a team performance to win dual meets,” he said. “There are times when [illnesses] are going to happen in a season, so we need to have guys ready to step up. Today we calculated and made the decision to put Aronoff in at 149 and bump Artalona up to 157. Those were the moves we made to cover up those sicknesses.”
Up against a larger opponent, Artalona started off strong but fell to a takedown late in the third period. Despite the loss, he credits his coaching staff for preparing him well for his first year of college wrestling.
“[It helps to] talk to my coaches [and] my trainers before," Artalona said. "I try not to get too nervous and overthink things, [while staying] focused on my technique and positions from training.”
Other Quakers stepped up against Columbia, including impressive performances from freshman Doug Zapf and senior A.J. Vindici to give Penn an early 6-0 lead. However, the Lions would overcome their slow start and rally to win the next five bouts, two of which went into overtime, to build a commanding 21-6 lead. The Red and Blue fought back with victories by freshmen Greg Bensley and Ben Goldin, yet Columbia’s bonus point tally saw them emerge as 25-12 winners.
Reina praised his wrestlers for their efforts over the weekend, but also found room for improvement in terms of mental preparation.
“[The loss] really stings today, [since] it was a winnable meet," he said. "I think in some matches today, we lost our composure and that hurt us. We need to stay focused on the techniques we learn in practice and training and stick to those things [under] all circumstances.”
The Quakers will wrap up their Ivy League schedule next weekend with a home dual meet against Princeton (6-6, 2-1). Penn has finished with a 2-3 record in Ivy League play every year since 2016, and currently own an even 2-2 record. The key to reversing the trend, according to Reina?
“The key is in the detail. We’re going to learn from the experience today and keep moving forward, and remain undaunted.”
With a team full of youth, the Quakers will certainly look onward, undaunted.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.