Another year, another strong showing by Penn wrestling at the NCAA Championships.
Unlike in 2018, when all four of the Red and Blue's national qualifiers were seniors, two freshmen were the only Quakers who made it to Pittsburgh this year to compete on college wrestling's biggest stage.
Throughout the season, Penn has been dominated by rookies, most notably Anthony Artalona and Carmen Ferrante. The pair has been stellar all year long, finishing with 28 and 25 season wins, respectively.
This weekend, the freshmen continued their dominance on the mat, as Artalona recovered from an opening loss to reach the infamous Round of 12, and Ferrante also picked up a win among stiff opposition.
"[I've been] tremendously proud of these guys throughout the course of the year," coach Roger Reina said. "They've continued to grow and improve and prepare themselves to compete at the NCAAs, and they were competitive in all their matches."
Ranked No. 13 at 149 pounds, Artalona came into the NCAAs poised to make a deep run towards the All-American status that comes with placing in the top eight of one's weight class.
Artalona's hopes took an early hit after his first match, where he couldn't overcome a late takedown by No. 20 Tommy Thorn of Minnesota, falling by a 5-4 score and sending him into the consolation bracket.
Luckily for the freshman, he pulled off a string of wins to make his way through the wrestlebacks.
First up was No. 29 Matthew Zovistoski of Appalachian State, who Artalona easily dispatched by way of a 16-1 technical fall.
Next up was his second Big Ten opponent of the competition, Wisconsin's No. 19 Cole Martin. This time Artalona would come out on top, 7-2, after a six-point third period catapulted him in control.
In the third consolation round, he faced No. 28 Michael Sprague of American in what would be his tightest match thus far. All tied after regulation, the match was only deadlocked for nine seconds into sudden victory before Artalona put together a swift takedown and clinched the win to advance to the Round of 12.
Winners in the Round of 12, also called the "Blood Round", finish in the top eight and become All-Americans, so the pressure runs especially high.
Artalona matched up against Iowa State's No. 8 Jarrett Degen, and fell behind 4-2 after the first period. Despite putting up a late fight, Artalona couldn't rally to come back and lost 6-5 to close his season.
Ferrante, the No. 23 seed at 125 pounds, also had a solid showing at his first NCAAs.
He lost to No. 10 Brent Fleetwood from North Dakota State by a narrow 2-0 result, but recovered in the consolation bracket to defeat Chattanooga's No. 26 Alonzo Allen in sudden victory by a 7-5 score.
In the second round of wrestlebacks, he was up against No. 9 Rayvon Foley of Michigan State, who proved too much for Ferrante to handle. Foley took a 7-4 win and would go on to win three more matches to place seventh.
"Anthony and Carmen now have returning NCAA experience and are in a position to share that with their team members and lead accordingly," Reina said.
After returning zero Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association or NCAA points from last season, the team made great strides onto the national scene this year, especially thanks to Artalona and Ferrante.
Artalona's title-winning performance at the EIWA Championships over spring break was the first by a Penn freshman since 2006, and Ferrante always seemed to be up there with him. There's no reason next season shouldn't be as successful as this one was.