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Junior Michael Colaiocco leans in to grapple with UNC's Jace Palmer during their matchup at the Palestra on Jan. 7. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Junior Michael Colaiocco was five years old when he first stepped onto a wrestling mat. Colaiocco, despite often being smaller in size compared to his peers, always had an inclination towards physical competition.

“I didn't really come from a family that had a wrestling background,” Colaiocco said. “My dad didn't wrestle, and no one really wrestled on my mom's side. The thing that really put me on for the sport was that I was a smaller guy. When I would go and play other sports, like football, I wouldn't necessarily play like I was small and wasn’t afraid of contact. Size was definitely a big factor in why I chose to specialize in wrestling.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Colaiocco was surrounded by a multitude of powerhouse wrestling institutions. During his high school years at Blair Academy — a school with a national reputation for producing top wrestling talent — Colaiocco grew alongside his teammates in a competitive and stimulating environment.

“Blair was awesome,” Colaiocco said. "Being around the school and in the wrestling room over those four years is ultimately what made me the man I am today. Those were important developmental years, and being on a team with guys who had the same goals that I had was very helpful. Going Division I wasn't really a question. Every single person on that team wanted to win a national title in college and wanted to be the best high school wrestler in the country."

Colaiocco isn’t the only Blair Academy alumni currently featured on Penn's roster. Sophomores Ryan Miller and Nick Incontrera were Colaiocco’s high school teammates and have quickly established themselves as key members of the Penn wrestling squad.

Louis Colaiocco, Michael’s younger brother, is a freshman at Penn, and is Michael's teammate on the wrestling team. Growing up, Michael, Louis, and their other brother Vincent motivated and supported each other.

“When we were younger, all three of us would be in the car on our way to practice after school,” Michael said. “We were fortunate enough to have our parents drive us to lessons and throw opportunities at us. All three of us are extremely grateful for that. It's cool to have people by your side. I was blessed with two best friends. The older I get, the more I appreciate brotherhood. [Louis] following me from Blair to Penn was a pretty natural transition for him.”

During his freshman year, Michael competed in the 125-pound weight class and had many consecutive strong performances. He finished top five in the 2019 Michigan State Open, first place in the Keystone Classic, and third at the Midlands Championships. After qualifying for his first NCAA Championships as a freshman, Colaiocco was set to compete on the biggest stage of American collegiate wrestling. However, in the spring of 2020, COVID-19 would throw a wrench in his momentum.

“That was definitely a pretty emotional timeframe for me and a lot of guys on the team,” Colaiocco said. “I qualified for the NCAA tournament only to find out that it ended up getting canceled and that I wouldn't be able to compete and have the opportunity to achieve my goals. It gives you some perspective and appreciation for what it means to have a regular year. We take these things for granted. I would have rather gone out there and not achieved my goals than have what happened happen because at least I could’ve given it a shot."

Colaiocco decided to take a year off from Penn after his freshman season as all Ivy League winter sports would end up being canceled due to COVID-19.

In his sophomore season, Colaiocco qualified and competed in his first NCAA championship tournament, ultimately suffering defeat and exiting in the second round. Along the way, he won the 2022 EIWA Championship in the 133-pound weight class. 

This season, Colaiocco finished second in his weight class at the EIWA Championships and qualified for his second NCAA tournament. In terms of his growth as a wrestler and mentality, Michael is focused on trying to remain grounded.

“The margins of victory in college wrestling are extremely small,” Colaiocco said. “The higher the level of wrestling, the smaller the improvements to be made and the harder it is to get just 1% better. You can only keep making a few adjustments to get a bit closer to your full potential."

"I've been doing wrestling technique for almost 20 years now," he added. "My body is in peak physical condition. When I plant my toe on the line, I have to be ready to compete every single time. Getting that extra mental edge and having a positive mindset is what I think sets me apart."

On March 16, Colaiocco, along with four of his Quaker teammates, will travel to Tulsa, Okla. to compete in the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championship Tournament. As the seventh seed in the 133-pound weight class, Michael will face off against Virginia Tech’s Sam Latona in the first round.

“It's really no secret. My goal is to be a national champion,” Colaiocco said. “When I entered Penn, I wanted to be a multiple-time national champion. The last few years, it didn't happen for me. The NCAA tournament is extremely tough. I'm excited to compete.  At the end of the day, I can only do so much. But right now, I'm just gonna give my full effort and take my training one day at a time.”