Penn wrestling is kicking off this season with high hopes, high stakes, and three new captains.
Before the beginning of the season, coach Roger Reina picked senior AJ Vindici, sophomore Anthony Artalona, and sophomore Carmen Ferrante to lead the team as captains.
Vindici is the veteran of the trio and has made a habit of leading by example.
“AJ Vindici is a very quiet leader. He brings a certain skill set, he’s someone who does the right things on and off the mat and lives his life according to the goals of the program," Reina said. "I think another key aspect with AJ is the way he competes. Last year on several occasions, he pulled matches out coming from behind or in overtime.
“He has that never-quit attitude. He just displayed a lot of courage in competitive situations last year that I think really inspired his teammates and the coaches.”
After learning from previous Quakers' captains throughout the past three years, Vindici is confident in his ability to lead the group this season.
“Being able to work under Joe Oliva’s leadership as captain last year helped set me up. I think the most important thing is being able to lead by example both on and off the mat, setting the example in the classroom, being diligent with your studies," Vindici said. "When we’re in the wrestling room, it’s important to always be working hard and getting the extra workouts and just being there for everyone.”
AJ found out that he was going to be captain at the end of last season and says that experience isn’t the only thing that matters in a captain.
“Coach came up to us – me, Arty, and Carmen – and just explained to us that we were gonna be the leaders for this team [and] what our expectations were going forward. It’s been a really exciting process.
“I think experience definitely helps, but it’s not the end all, be all. Everyone’s been in the sport for so long and knows what it takes. I think the most important thing for a captain is being able to listen and take advice from everyone on the team.”
The three captains are close with each other as well as the team overall. Sophomore captain Anthony Artalona admits that the transition from freshman NCAA qualifier to captain was challenging at first but made sense given the team’s youth and depth.
“It was a little weird at first, honestly. I wasn’t super confident," Artalona said. "But at the same time, I think it makes sense because we had eight freshman starters last year. Eight out of ten. So we’re a young team. Leading the team as a sophomore seems a little unusual at first, but it made sense.”
Like Vindici, Artalona is not necessarily the most vocal leader but still sets a great example through his actions.
“I think our teammates see that we work hard. We’re pretty friendly guys, and we’re not afraid to put in the work," he said. "We’re not super vocal, we’re not gonna be yelling at people, but I think people will catch on and see us training hard. We do a great job of leading by example. I think that’s definitely mine and Carmen’s strength.”
Reina sees Artalona's and Ferrante's age and national competitiveness as a major advantage for themselves as leaders.
“Carmen and Anthony are tremendous competitors on the mat who bring a lot of skills," Reina said. "They were our two NCAA qualifiers last year, so they have that national experience that they brought back. It’s really valuable to have people with that national level of experience come back in the room.”
Ferrante echoed his coach's sentiment in regard to last year's success carrying over to this season.
“The hard work last season really paid off. Arty and I had a really good season," he said. “I think some of the leadership qualities we showed last year caught Coach Reina’s eye and I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have been named a captain. I’m super excited to be able to lead the team.”
The tight-knit, lead-by-example leadership style that Penn is adopting this season is something that Reina hopes will lead the team to a new heights, both nationally and in the Ivy League.
"One of our main goals is to separate ourselves from middle-of-the-pack programs and move toward … the top of the Ivy League programs," Reina said. "In our sport, that moves us into the top 20. I think that for us, getting individuals qualified to the NCAA Championships is a really important goal. Last year we had two guys; this year I think we can get five or six, maybe more."
Particularly in the early stages of the season, Reina says that the athletes' approach to practice is key to the team's success.
"The most important quality at this stage in the season is consistency and their approach to practice, being 100% focused with a high level of intensity and an enthusiasm to learn," he said. “Hopefully as the season goes on, that becomes a habit."
With a young team led by this trio of accomplished captains, the bar is now higher than ever for the Red and Blue.