PHILADELPHIA - Destination Des Moines is upon the wrestling world as the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships are set to begin on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Six wrestlers will represent Penn at the national tournament as the Quakers look to extend their run of three consecutive seasons with an All-American and podium finishes in 14 of the last 16 national championship meets.
Penn has produced 26 NCAA All-Americans and five national champions over its storied wrestling history, and for the third year in a row will send a wrestler to NCAAs looking to repeat as an All-American. Micah Burak finished in seventh place at 197 pounds last year in St. Louis, and will return for one final trip to the national tournament as the eighth seed. If he can reach the podium Burak will be the first repeat All-American for the Quakers since Matt Valenti's back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Burak is 16-2 overall this season, both of his losses coming to the wrestlers seeded directly above him. Looming is a potential meeting with the top seed, Dustin Kilgore of Kent State. Burak is familiar with Kilgore, and holds the distinction of being the last collegiate wrestler to defeat Kilgore - doing so via a 6-4 decision at the Southern Scuffle on Dec. 30, 2010. Since then, Kilgore has not lost a collegiate match - he won the 2011 NCAA championship and sat out last season to train for the Olympic Trials where he finished fourth. This season, Kilgore is 39-0 and he is 58-0 since his loss to Burak. Burak will have a rematch of his opening bout from 2012 to start his final NCAAS, taking on Andrew Campolattano of Ohio State. Last year, Burak scored a 5-3 decision in sudden victory.
Burak will be joined as a seeded wrestler by No. 10 C.J. Cobb at 141 pounds. The sophomore will be making his first trip to the NCAA Championships, becoming the first Penn wrestler to be seeded in his first trip to nationals since Rollie Peterkin was the nine seed at 125 pounds in 2008. Cobb is 23-7 this season, recently taking second place at the EIWA Championships. He has wrestled 14 matches against NCAA entrants this season, with a 9-5 record. Overall against wrestlers in the field this week, Cobb is 9-7. Cobb will take on Nebraska's Ridge Kiley in the first round. Kiley is 14-11 this season.
Senior Mark Rappo returns to the NCAA Championships for the second time. Unseeded at 125, Rappo will wrestle the first bout of the tournament in a pigtail match against Max Soria of Buffalo. The two have never met, and Soria enters the tournament with a 26-13 record. Rappo, 22-5 this season, recently took second at EIWAs as he did the last time he reached the NCAA Championships. In 2011, Rappo scored an upset win to start his tournament with an 8-4 decision over No. 9 Jon Morrison of Oklahoma State before dropping two close matches. Rappo has 13 matches worth of experience against wrestlers entered in this weekend's tournament, including three against his potential first round opponent in Michigan's Sean Boyle. Rappo is 1-2 against Boyle, one loss by injury default and the second a 3-1 decision this season at Midlands. Rappo owns a 3-2 win in a dual meet in 2009.
Korb earned an automatic bid at 174 pounds with his third place finish at EIWAs. 23-12 this season, Korb has come on of late, winning nine of his last 11 matches. Since an 0-2 tournament at Midlands, Korb has went 14-4 and he has scored 10 or more points in four of his last eight wins. He will wrestle No. 4 seed Robert Kokesh of Nebraska in the first round. Kokesh was an qualifier at 165 pounds last season and is 33-3 overall this season.
Canaan Bethea will have a familiar opponent to start his tournament in Arizona State's Kevin Radford. The two met this January in a dual, Bethea scoring a 5-4 win. Last year, Penn's Erich Smith met Radford in the first round of NCAAs, scoring the win. Bethea, unseeded at NCAAs, enters the tournament with a team-best 24 wins and wins in 12 of his last 15 matches. Radford is 21-13 this season.
Penn's lone at-large selection, Steven Graziano will be the first Penn heavyweight to compete at NCAAs since Trey McLean in 2009. Graziano wrestled to fifth place at EIWAs two weeks ago, and has won a career high 20 bouts this season. He will jump right into NCAA competition, taking on the second seed and defending national champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota. Nelson is a two-time All-American and 28-1 this season.
Schedule for 2013 NCAA Championships (All times EST) Thursday, March 21 Session I: 12 p.m. (ESPN3) Session II: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)