For first-year head coach Zeke Jones, the success of the 2005-06 Penn wrestling season was just the beginning of what the future holds for the Quakers. An NCAA champion, two All-Americans, a top-15 finish at the NCAA Championships (and a school-record point total), two Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) champions, a third-place finish at the EIWA Championships -- not bad for a first-year head coach. The Quakers will look to continue with their success and have the right tools to become one of the top-10 programs in the country.
Success on an Individual Level
Matt Valenti, a 133-pounder, led the Quakers this season. He became the third Quaker to win a national championship and the first in six years. Valenti won his second EIWA title and finished the season tying his own school record for wins in a season with 36. He ended the season on a 24-match win streak, and his only losses of the season came against No. 1 Shawn Bunch and No. 8 Jake Strayer. He became an All-America for the second time in three tries and was the first Quaker in history to reach 100 wins as a junior. Valenti is sixth all-time at Penn in wins with 105 and is on pace to break Brett Matter’s program record of 128. For his efforts, Valenti was named the EIWA Wrestler of the Year, the third Quaker to earn the award since its inception in 1998.
Junior Matt Herrington joined Valenti on the podium in Oklahoma City. The 174-pounder finished fifth and earned his first All-America honors. He went 6-2 at NCAAs and pinned Lehigh’s Travis Frick in the fifth-place bout to earn bonus points for his team. Both of his losses came to Hofstra’s Mike Patrovich, who finished fourth. Herrington also was second at the EIWA Championships, falling to Frick in overtime in the final.
Four other Quakers made the trek to Oklahoma City. Senior Mike Silengo turned it on in his final campaign to earn an automatic bid by placing third at the EIWAs at 125 pounds. Senior Dustin Wiles was third EIWAs at 184 pounds and made his second trip to NCAAs. Freshman Matt Dragon won the EIWA 149-pound title to get the automatic berth, and classmate Cesar Grajales took third at 141 pounds to punch his ticket to the Sooner State.
Six Quakers finished the season with 20 or more wins, and two grapplers reached the 30-win mark. Dragon was one win away from Matt Valenti’s freshman record of 33 wins and just one win away from All-America honors as well.
Penn on the Tournament Scene
Penn opened up the season with a strong showing at the Oklahoma Brockport Gold, taking second with Valenti winning the 133-pound weight class. At the Keystone Classic, sophomore Andrew Gold, Valenti, junior Matt Eveleth and Grajales won their weight classes to lead Penn to a first-place finish. The No. 23 Quakers then took 10th at the Las Vegas Invitational despite not having their starting 149 or 197 pounders. Valenti was second, falling to Bunch in the championship bout.
After falling in the season opener at home to No. 13 Penn State, Penn went on to win five-straight matches.The Red and Blue won eight of their next 11 matches including a shutout of The Citadel. Penn’s only losses during that stretch were an 18-15 loss to No. 15 Indiana in the final of the Virginia Duals and a 25-15 defeat at the hands of No. 21 Hofstra. The Quakers were second at the Duals, their highest finish ever at a dual-meet tournament.
Penn had victories over Drexel, North Dakota State and Ohio State at the Duals as well as dual-meet wins over North Carolina, The Citadel, Brown and Harvard. During the win streak, the Red and Blue won 72 of 100 bouts and won eight or more matches five different times.
Penn finished the regular season with an 11-5 record; all five of its defeats were at the hands of nationally-ranked opponents. The Quakers went 4-1 in the Ivy League -- the 13th-straight year the Red and Blue finished the season with a winning Ancient Eight record -- and finished second.
Speaking of the Ivy League
Three Quakers were named unanimous first-team All-Ivy -- Valenti, Dragon and Herrington. Velekei was named second-team All-Ivy, and Silengo, Grajales, Zannetti, Zamir and Wiles received honorable mention. Zamir also was an Academic All-Ivy recipient.
Doing Some Damage at the Conference Championships
Penn had a very successful dual-meet season and used everything it learned for postseason competition. The Quakers were third at the EIWA Championships, finishing just 1.5 points behind Ancient Eight foe Cornell. Eight wrestlers placed in the top-eight, and six advanced to the NCAA Championships.
Success in the Sooner State
Penn finished 12th at the 2006 NCAA Championships, its sixth best finish ever. Two grapplers earned All-American honors and the six grapplers amassed 51 points, which is the highest point total for a Penn team ever.
With several key wrestlers returning for next season and a year under Coach Jones’ belt, the Quakers have the right tools to crack into the top-10 next season and stay there.