Six Quakers wrestled their way into the field for the tournament starting March 17 and running through the national championship matches March 19. For these six wrestlers, knowing that the wrestling world is coming to them and their chance to shine is just five miles from Penn's campus allows for all types of storybook endings.
Start with 125-pounder Mark Rappo. A local product from Holland, Pa. whose older brother Rick was a two-time NCAA qualifier for the Quakers, Mark will be making his first trip to the national tournament in his junior season. Last weekend, his younger brother won a PA high school state title, and the Rappo name is well-known in Pennsylvania wrestling circles, making him a fan favorite when he steps on the mat early Thursday morning.
How about senior Rollie Peterkin at 133 pounds? In his two previous trips to the NCAA Championships, Peterkin left one win shy of becoming an All-American after advancing to the Round of 12 at 125 pounds. In his final go-round, Peterkin is again seeded and is two wins shy of reaching 100 wins for his career.
Another PA native who will be familiar to fans in the stands is Zack Kemmerer at 141 pounds. The East Greenville, Pa. native graduated from Upper Perkiomen High School in 2007 as the PIAA all-time leader in wins and is finally prepared to make similar noise at the collegiate level. He will be seeded for the first time at the tournament and is looking for his first career NCAA win. In addition, Kemmerer is 35-7 this year, one win away from tying the single-season win mark.
Then there are the Burak brothers, Gabriel and Micah. This marks the second trip to NCAAs for the duo and although they hail from Colorado, the Buraks have strong family ties in Pennsylvania and will also have a strong support section in the stands. For Gabriel, this weekend marks the last time he will put on a Penn singlet and the single-season pin leader is looking for his first NCAA win. He could possibly wrestle Drexel's Joe Booth in an all-West Philly match if Booth can win his pigtail bout. Micah went 1-2 at NCAAs in 2010 and is seeded sixth overall at 197, Penn's highest seeded wrestler. With a win over then-No. 1 Dustin Kilgore on his resume and countless close matches with the top seed in the tournament, Burak is a legit contender to win the whole thing.
Finally, there is senior Scott Giffin. Penn's only four-time NCAA qualifier on the current roster, Giffin was an All-American in 2010 with a 5-2 record at the NCAA Championships. He won four matches in a row after a first round loss to get himself on the podium as Penn's 24th All-American. He was hampered all season long by injuries to both his shoulder and knee, but with a late-season run of Ivy wins and an impressive day at the National Collegiate Open, Giffin let the country know he could still compete. At the EIWA Championships, Giffin finished sixth, one spot away from an automatic bid, but his body of work over the course of the season earned him one of four at-large bids to the tournament. A Berlin, N.J. product, Giffin is another local wrestler who will have a majority of the crowd behind him whenever he steps on the mat.
With the storyboarding out of the way, there is some serious business at hand for Penn this weekend. The Quakers have three wrestlers seeded in the tournament for the first time since 2007. Penn's three wrestlers that are not seeded have spent time in the national rankings this year and are likely to win matches over the course of the tournament. All that combined gives Penn a chance for its best team score since the 2007 NCAA Tournament where Matt Valenti claimed his second of back-to-back national titles.
Here is a breakdown on Penn's six wrestlers competing at the 2011 NCAA Championships:
125 - Mark Rappo is making his first trip to the NCAA Championships after a 27-8 season which saw him finish second at the EIWA Championships. Rappo has wrestled 13 times against wrestlers in the field this weekend and is 7-6 against those competitors. Since the turn of the calendar to 2011, Rappo has gone 12-2 with his only losses coming to No. 11 seed Frank Perrelli of Cornell. Rappo, who is currently ranked No. 14 by InterMat, will wrestle the No. 9 seed in the tournament, Jon Morrison from Oklahoma State. Morrison is 18-6 overall this season as a redshirt freshman. Morrison lost his only match at the Big 12 tournament two weeks ago after battling a leg injury all week and defaulted down to 5th place. He will be making his first trip to the NCAA Championships, so both wrestlers will have some first-time jitters to overcome. The only common opponent this season for the two wrestlers is Bucknell's Derek Reber, a wrestler Rappo defeated, 8-1, and Morrison downed, 9-0. The bout paired up with Rappo's features No. 8 seed Jarrod Patterson of Oklahoma against Allen Bartelli of Boise State.
133 - Senior Rollie Peterkin is back at the NCAA Championships for the third time in his career, looking to make the leap to All-American after two Round of 12 finishes at 125 pounds in 2008 and 2009. He enters with a 26-5 overall record this season and earned the No. 10 seed in the bracket. He finished third at the EIWA Championships and won the always-tough Southern Scuffle title in December. Peterkin is 17-9 overall in his career against wrestlers at the 2011 NCAA Championships and 8-5 against those in the 133-pound field. His first round opponent is unseeded Flint Ray from Utah Valley. Ray is at NCAAs for the second time after winning his second NCAA West Regional championship. He is 22-2 overall this season and ranked No. 14 by InterMat. Both of his losses have come to No. 2 seed Andrew Hochstrasser of Boise State and last year at NCAA's, he went 1-2. Peterkin will then wrestle either No. 7 Bernard Futrell of Illinois or Eric Morrill of Edinboro depending on how things play out. Peterkin is 2-0 all-time against Morrill.
141 - Zack Kemmerer has been around the top-ten all season long and his 35-7 record earned him the No. 12 seed in the tournament. After an 0-2 performances at his first nationals, Kemmerer is looking to make this trip count. He finished third at the EIWA Championships and has won the Binghamton Open and Keystone Classic while taking second at the Nittany Lion Open this season. He is 8-7 against NCAA qualifiers and his 35 wins is second-most among any 141-pound wrestlers in Division I. One of his losses this season to an NCAA qualifier came to his first-round opponent on Thursday in Maryland's Jon Kohler. Kemmerer had trouble getting out in the second period, as Kohler rode the full two minutes then escaped and tacked on a takedown in the third for the win. Kohler is 24-6 this season and ranked No. 14 by InterMat. He won the ACC championship at 141 earlier this month, giving him two conference titles in his career and earning his second bid to NCAAs where he went 0-2. The next match for Kemmerer will be against either No. 5 Montell Marion of Iowa or Stephen Dutton of Lehigh. Kemmerer and Dutton have history as the two have split a pair of meetings in the last month.
165 - Gabriel Burak is the only Penn wrestler who isn't sure of his first round match yet, as he will wait to see who wins a pigtail bout between Drexel's Joe Booth and North Carolina's Thomas Scotton. Burak is at the NCAAs for the second time after a 0-2 record last year in his first trip. Burak enters with a 20-6 overall record and a third-place finish at EIWAs. Scotton was awarded an at-large bid and is at his third NCAA tournament after his 26-17 season. He went 1-2 at NCAAs in 2010 and has a 5-1 win over Booth from earlier this season. Booth is back to NCAAs for the second time after garnering an at-large berth. In 2010, he went 22-9 and was CAA Co-Rookie of the Year and he went 1-2 at NCAAs. This year, Booth is 23-9 and had been in the Top-20 all season before a 1-2 performance at the CAA Championships. After his opening match, Burak is looking at either No. 4 Josh Asper of Maryland or unseeded Kurt Swartz of Boise State.
174 - Scott Giffin's final Penn action starts with a match against No. 8 Mike Letts from Maryland. Giffin is 19-10 overall this season and 11-5 since returning from injury on Feb. 5. Earlier this season, he dropped a 6-2 decision to Letts in a dual, a match which featured Giffin at the height of his early-season injury issues and changed course when Giffin was hit for stalling less than a minute into the match. In 2009, Letts defeated Giffin, 7-4, in a much close contest, This year, Letts is 28-6 and coming off an ACC title after defeating No. 4 Chris Henrich in the final, 4-2. Letts is now a three-time ACC champ and three-time NCAA qualifier who has three career wins at the national tournament. Next up for Giffin after Letts will be either No. 9 Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa or the winner of a pigtail bout between Rob Morrison of Rider and Dorian Henderson of Missouri.
197 - Micah Burak has been inside the Top 10 at 197 all season and enters the tournament with a seeding of No. 6. Burak is 27-6 this season and finished second at the EIWA Championships once again two weeks ago. Three of his losses have come to No. 1 Cam Simaz, a wrestler he would not see until the national finals. Burak went 1-2 at the 2010 NCAA Championships and is poised to make a deeper run this year. His tournament starts with Ohio State freshman Peter Capone. An at-large selection after his seventh-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, Capone is 19-15 this season as a redshirt freshman after going 14-4 last season in open competition. Last year, Burak lost to Ohio State's Cody Magrum in wrestlebacks, 3-1. Awaiting Burak after his first match is ether No. 11 Jerome Ward of Iowa State or Erik Schuth of Ohio.
Schedule of Events:
Session I - Thursday, March 17 at 11 a.m. Coverage ESPN3.com
Session II - Thursday, March 17 at 6:30 p.m. Coverage ESPN3.com
Session III - Friday, March 18 at 10:30 p.m. Coverage ESPN3.com, ESPN U TV
Session IV - Friday, March 18 at 7 p.m. Coverage ESPN3.com, ESPN U TV
Session V - Saturday, March 19 at 11 a.m. Coverage ESPN U TV
Session VI - Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. Coverage ESPN HD