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PHILADELPHIA - 61 Penn wrestlers have stood atop the podium at the EIWA Championships over the first 107 years of the nation's oldest collegiate wrestling tournament, and this weekend, the Quakers look at add to that number for the first time in four years as the Quakers head to Princeton's Jadwin Gymnasium for the 108th EIWA Championships.
The Red and Blue have arguably their best shot at an EIWA title since winning three at the 2008 EIWA Championships as the Quakers will likely have their first number-one seed at the tournament since 2008 as Zack Kemmerer is the prohibitive favorite at 141 pounds.
That 2008 tournament was one of two conference meets in the past four years that Penn has finished second at, the Quakers just a half-point behind Cornell in '08 at Franklin & Marshall after all was said and done. In 2010, the Red and Blue were second again to the Big Red, and Cornell enters this weekend's tournament looking for a sixth consecutive EIWA title.
Penn has a team loaded with veteran talent and young wrestlers who have navigated challenging first seasons to be right in the mix for a conference title. In total, seven of Penn's 10 wrestlers entered this weekend are likely to be seeded, with five destined for top-five seeds.
Kemmerer is a returning All-American at 141 pounds and has twice finished third at the EIWA Championships. This season, he is 19-3 overall and 10-0 against EIWA opponents. He is 5-0 against wrestlers likely to be seeded 3-6 this season and defeated the potential No. 2 seed, Stephen Dutton of Lehigh, in their final meeting last season. He is looking to become Penn's first EIWA champion at 141 pounds since Doug McGraw in 2004.
The only wrestler in Penn's lineup this weekend to have reached an EIWA final is Micah Burak at 197 pounds. The junior has reached the championship match in each of his first two seasons, dropping the title bout both times to Cornell's Cam Simaz. Burak is again the No. 2 seed behind Simaz this weekend, and the two seem on a collision course for an eighth career meeting. Burak is still looking for his first win against Simaz, but has been within striking distance in six of the seven previous encounters, including a 1-0 loss in the 2011 EIWA final.
Bryan Ortenzio has a claim to be the number one seed at 133 pounds, and should fall no lower than number two after a 25-3 regular season. Two of his losses have come to Harvard's Steven Keith, while Ortenzio has a win over Keith as well during the season. Overall this season, Ortenzio is 10-2 against EIWA wrestlers. This will be Ortenzio's fourth EIWA Championships appearance, a tournament which has seen Ortenzio post a 6-7 record with a fifth-place finish in 2010 to his credit. He enters the weekend with 99 career wins, one victory shy of becoming the ninth Penn wrestler to reach 100 career wins.
After Penn's three veterans who look to be seeded highly, there are four underclassmen set to strike mightily in their first EIWA Championships runs. At heavyweight, sophomore Steven Graziano has come off the injured list and denied every wrestler he has faced in the second half of the season to the tune of an 8-0 record since the calendar turned to 2012 (16-6 overall). Graziano has a 6-0 record against EIWA opponents during this undefeated run, including a 5-2 win over Columbia's Kevin Lester three weeks ago that has locked up the number-three seed for Graziano in all likelihood.
Three freshmen should be seeded at the tournament, led by Ivy League Rookie of the Year Lorenzo Thomas at 165 pounds. He is 21-8 overall, with a 9-3 record against EIWA opponents, and has an inside track on the number-three seed at 165. Thomas should not shrink away from the pressure of a conference tournament, as he has wrestled eight matches against Top-20 wrestlers this season.
Steve Robertson is 21-6 at 149 pounds this season, including an 8-2 mark against EIWA opponents. The preseeds have him as the No. 5 seed this weekend, but Robertson has a 6-4 win over the wrestler ahead of him at No. 4 (Steve Santos of Columbia) and a 5-3 loss to the No. 3 seed, Chris Villalonga of Cornell.
Ian Korb has had a freshman season which truly encapsulates the ups and downs that are usually associated with a rookie season. He enters the weekend with a 14-14 record overall, and is slotted in as the No. 8 seed. Despite the .500 record, Korb has shown time and again that he can come through with a big win, as he posted a 6-4 win in sudden victory over the likely No. 2 seed, Nate Brown of Lehigh.
Unseeded at 184, Erich Smith is another wild card for the Quakers this weekend whose potential points will go a long way to deciding where the Quakers stand as a team at the end of the tournament. He is 15-15 this season, and 6-8 against EIWA opponents, and has been in some of the wildest matches the Red and Blue have put together in 2011-12. He was close with top two seeds at the weight, split with the No. 6 seed and has two losses to the No. 4 seed. If any of those losses can be flipped to wins, Smith can go a long way in the bracket - as evidenced by his run to the quarterfinals at Midlands.
At every tournament, there is always someone who comes out of nowhere to make noise and add some points to his team's score. For the Quakers, perhaps that role will be filled by 125-poundr Karim Shafi or 157-pounder Troy Hernandez. Both will not be seeded entering the tournament, but have the opportunity to score an upset and turn the tournament on its head. Both are competing in their first EIWA Championships for the Quakers and can take advantage of their status under the radar to boost Penn's score.
Saturday will be a busy day at Jadwin Gymnasium, with Session I starting at 9 a.m. and wrestling continuing all the way through the semifinals (2:30 approximate start). On Sunday, Session III begins at 10 a.m. with the championship finals starting at 3 p.m.
A Look at the 2012 EIWA Championships Weight-by-Weight
125 (Three AQs)
The EIWA has three automatic qualifying spots at stake this weekend at 125, with defending EIWA champion Frank Perrelli the favorite. He is ranked No. 6 in the country with a 24-5 record. Princeton's Garret Frey was a finalist in 2010 and will look to give the home fans something to cheer about. Brown's Billy Waterson is 20-7 overall and is likely to be seeded third. He may be Brown's best chance at an automatic qualifier.
133 (Five AQs)
Bryan Ortenzio and Steven Keith have been the class of this weight all season, with Keith holding a 2-1 edge in their season series. One of those two is most likely to stand atop the podium on Sunday, but Lehigh's Mason Beckman is a bit of a wild card in the proceedings. After starting the season at 125, Beckman moved up at the Midlands and has gone 17-4 at 133, including a win by fall from neutral over Keith. No. 4 seed Aaron Kalil of Navy is 24-8 this season and is a two-time NCAA qualifier, providing a dangerous matchup.
141 (Six AQs)
One of the deepest weights in the country, the EIWA has five wrestlers inside the NCAA top-17, led by No. 11 Zack Kemmerer. He will be the number one seed, and will have to navigate a minefield of opponents to reach the top of the podium. Lehigh's Dutton missed the dual with Penn and a lot of the season with an injury, but is 14-3 overall. He is one of two NCAA Round of 12 wrestlers from last season back, joined by defending EIWA champion at 141, Matt Mariarcher of American. Mariarcher is 20-7 this season, but will likely be seeded No. 5 after losses inside the EIWA. In addition, Princeton's Adam Krop has been ranked as high as No. 15 in the country while Cornell's Mike Nevinger is currently No. 16 in the NCAA.
149 (Six AQs)
Another deep weight, the EIWA will have half a dozen automatic bids at stake this weekend. Mario Mason of Rutgers is ranked No. 6 in the country and is the number one seed. He was a Round of 12 wrestler in 2011 after a third-place finish at EIWAs. After Mason, there are five wrestlers who could reach the finals. Harvard's Corey Jantzen is ranked No. 11, and could be the No. 2 seed after just a 7-2 record while battling injuries He has a win in overtime against Mason, and is a two-time NCAA qualifier. Penn's Robertson has defeated Columbia's Steve Santos and lost by two to Cornell's Chris Villalonga - who has defeated Jantzen, but lost to Santos. Needless to say, the quarterfinals and semifinals at this weight will be appointment viewing.
157 (Six AQs)
Cornell's Kyle Dake is 24-0 this season and looking to reach his third consecutive EIWA final at a third different weight. He is 1-1 in final appearances, but is a two-time NCAA Champion. All eyes will be on him. Leading the charge to knock off Dake is American's Ganbayar Sanjaa. He is ranked No. 3 in the country and is 18-2 overall with one loss to the No. 2 wrestler in the country and another when bumping up a weight for the team. The No. 3 seed at this weight is the No. 7 wrestler in the country, Walter Peppelman of Harvard. He is a returning All-American and is 22-2 this season. Princeton has another chance to excite the home crowd in No. 4 seed and No. 16 ranked Daniel Kolodzik. He is 28-7 this season and has split matches with Peppelman.
165 (Four AQs)
Defending EIWA champion Scott Winston is back at this weight, and could be the top seed. He is 15-5 this season, and ranked No. 19 in the country. Lehigh's Brandon Hatchett also has a claim on the top seed with a 14-3 record and a No. 15 ranking. He did not compete from 12/29-2/18 after suffering an injury at Midlands. Penn's Lorenzo Thomas and Cornell's Marshall Peppelman will be the No. 3-4 seeds and have what it takes to knock off the top two seeds. Thomas is 21-8 overall and lost close matches to both Hatchett and Winston this season. Peppelman is 20-13, but just 4-6 in his last ten matches.
174 (Four AQs)
This is one weight where any of the top-eight seeds could conceivably win the tournament. Greg Zannetti of Rutgers is likely to be the top seed and is 26-3 this season. He is undefeated over his last 11 matches, including a 3-2 win over the No. 2 preseed Nate Brown of Lehigh. Brown is 15-5 overall, but lost in sudden victory to Penn's Ian Korb, a potential quarterfinal opponent. Columbia's Stephen West is 23-9 overall to lay claim to the No. 3 seed with a split series against Cornell's Billy George and a win over Korb. George is 14-11 overall with all but one of his matches a decision.
184 (Four AQs)
The EIWA is again at the head of the class at 184 pounds with defending EIWA champion and NCAA finalist Robert Hamlin (Lehigh) back as well as EIWA runner-up and All-American Steve Bosak (Cornell). Hamlin is ranked No. 2 in the country entering the tournament and Bosak is No. 5. Navy's Luke Rebertus is a two-time NCAA qualifier and was fourth at EIWAs last season. This year, he is 24-9 and ranked No. 13 in the country. Brown's Ophir Bernstein has been a revelation for the Bears this season, posting a 20-10 record in his rookie season, but his penchant for wild matches could catch up with him. 14 of his matches have ended via either fall or technical fall (8-6 record in those bouts), including a loss by fall to Harvard's Cameron Croy before avenging that with a decision. Croy has split with Penn's Erich Smith. With two more AQs at stake after the top two, the battle in the wrestlebacks at 184 will be exciting.
197 (Five AQs)
National No. 1 Cam Simaz is a three-time EIWA champion at 197 and will look to cap his career with a four-peat this weekend. He is a three-time All-American who has taken third the last two seasons. This year, he is 22-1 with his only loss an injury default. His chief rival inside the EIWA the past two seasons has been Penn's No. 10 Micah Burak. The two have met in the past two EIWA finals, both wins for Simaz. Earlier this season, Burak dropped a 3-0 decision to Burak and is looking for his first win over Simaz in seven chances. Lehigh's Joe Kennedy is ranked No. 11 in the country and has split with Burak this season. Kennedy was injured in early January, but returned with two falls and a major decision to close the regular season. American's Daniel Mitchell is ranked No. 18 in the country and could finally make that leap to EIWA finalist this season after a 16-8 regular season.
285 (Three AQs)
Last year, Ryan Flores and Zach engaged in quite a rivalry in the postseason, with Flores winning the EIWA title and Rey coming back for the win in the NCAA final. This year, they are right back at it with Flores holding the No. 1 national ranking and Rey right behind at No. 2. The two have not met since the national final, and all eyes will be on them in the final bout it seeds hold. With just three automatic qualifying spots available, the fight for third will be just as heated. Penn's Steven Graziano will be seeded third based on his wins inside the conference over Cornell's Maciej Jochym and Columbia's Kevin Lester. Graziano will have to replicate those wins at some point to earn his first NCAA Championships berth.