The American Heritage dictionary defines the word success as “the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” The University of Pennsylvania wrestling team desires to be one of the nation’s best. They practice day-in and day-out, fine-tuning their skills and preparing for the tests that will take them to the top 10. The Quaker quest for greatness has continued for the past 101 years, and the tradition of excellence will continue in 2005-06 under first year Head Coach Zeke Jones.
“We have a great blend of talented and experienced student-athletes, and a core of newcomers who are excited about the opportunity to represent Penn, ” he said. “These student-athletes together will continue to drive Penn to become one of the nation’s elite.”
Leading the way for the Quakers will be returning All-American Matt Valenti. He is joined by NCAA qualifiers Matt Herrington, Paul Velekei and Dustin Wiles.
At the lighter end of the roster, battling for the starting spot at 125 pounds, are senior Mike Silengo and sophomore Andrew Gold. Silengo has seen significant mat time since his freshman year, and he captured the Nittany Lion Open title last fall. He brings international experience to the wrestling room as well, taking second place at the University World Championships. Gold, however, won’t give the spot over easily. After taking second place at Penn State in the fall, he missed a majority of last season due to injuries. Gold has shown his potential and is anxious to get back to the mats to finish what he started. As if that isn’t enough, further fanning the 125 fire will be freshman Rick Rappo. Rappo won the Pennsylvania title at 112 pounds as a junior, and his only defeat of his senior year came in the state final match. A two-time Junior National All-American, Rappo will be sure to keep the competition intense.
Wrestling at 133 pounds this season will be All-American Matt Valenti. An outstanding leader on and off the mat, he will drive his teammates to personal bests, and his wrestling is sure to put points on the board for Penn. Valenti started marking up the record books as a freshman. After winning the Penn State Open, recording 11 falls to tie the school record for falls in a season, and finishing with 33 wins for the most by a freshman in program history, he was named second-team All-Ivy League and wrestled his way into the top-12 at nationals. In his sophomore campaign, Valenti marked 36 wins for the single-season school record, won the EIWA title at 125 pounds, was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection, and ended the season with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships to earn his first All-America honors. He will set the bar for the program, and he returns excited to win a national title. Pacing Valenti, though, will be junior Matt Eveleth, a three-time Maryland state champion, who finished fourth at EIWAs as a freshman. He returned for a strong sophomore season, recording seven pins which was good for 10th in a single season at Penn, and earning honorable mention All-Ivy League accolades.
Fighting to appear at 141 pounds are juniors Nick Matteo and newcomer Cesar Grajales, a four-time Florida state champion and a freestyle and Greco-Roman national champion. Matteo began appearing in the starting line-up as a freshman, but spent last year recovering from a shoulder injury
Freshmen Dan Burkholder and Brett McCurdy are also armed and ready for action at 141. Burkholder is a Pennsylvania state champion and gave up only one match his senior year, and also has a third-place finish at Junior Nationals to his name. McCurdy is a four-time Pennsylvania Prep state champion and finished second at the National Prep tournament the last three years.
Continuing down the line-up, scheduled to debut at 149 pounds for the Quakers are junior Steve Swentzel and sophomore Rob Hitschler. Swentzel, who has been plagued by injury, recorded two falls last year and has returned healthy and ready to vie for a spot in the starting line-up. Hitschler earned the starting position at 149 as a freshman and looks to keep it. Remaining too close for comfort in the competition is newcomer Matt Dragon, who finished his perfect 45-0 senior season with a Pennsylvania state title and a fifth-place national ranking by Wrestling USA.
Suiting up at 157 pounds will be junior Brock Wittmeyer and junior Gene Zannetti. Wittmeyer is a returning starter who took third place at the Keystone Classic, marked four wins at the Las Vegas Invitational and ended the season at the EIWA Championships with a 15-17 season. Zannetti is a transfer from fellow EIWA member Rutgers, where he started his sophomore season at 157 pounds. Zannetti met Wittmeyer last spring at the EIWAs in Baltimore in route to Zanetti’s fourth-place finish, ending the season at 13-8.
Returning at 165 pounds is senior captain Rich Ferguson, who has started the last three seasons for the Quakers. Ferguson has both second-team and honorable mention All-Ivy accolades to his name. He started last fall by winning the Keystone Classic, went on to be named Penn Student-Athlete of the Week in February for a 4-0 weekend (one fall, one major decision), and ended the season 16-14 at the EIWA Championships. But Ferguson will have his hand fulls with sophomores Lior Zamir and Zach Shanaman. Zamir finished his freshman campaign with a 7-3 record. He took third at the Keystone Classic in November and won gold and bronze medals in freestyle and Greco-Roman, respectively, at the Maccabiah Games in Israel this past summer. Shanaman had a strong showing last season, making his freshman debut at the Oklahoma Gold Classic with a third-place finish and wrapping up the year with a 12-9 record with two falls and 10 near falls.
Back at 174 pounds this season is junior Matt Herrington. Herrington is a two-time NCAA qualifier, second-team All-Ivy honoree, Penn State Open champion, Keystone Classic runner-up, third-place winner at EIWAs, and went undefeated at the National Duals in Cleveland in 2004. Despite missing seven weeks of the season, he recorded the team’s most takedowns (89) during his sophomore season. Herrington was out last year due to injury and is returning strong and ready to resume his record-setting performances. Also vying for time at 174 pounds are sophomore Jack Kitchen and freshmen Colin Hitschler and Matt DeLuca. Kitchen, a three-time Junior National All-American, recorded 11 team points in two dual meet wins last season as a freshman and will look to further contribute this year. Hitschler finished his senior year of high school as the National Prep champion and recorded 48 wins with only one loss. DeLuca, NWCA Brute National Champion, gave up only two losses his senior season en route to placing fourth at the New York state championships. There is surely no shortage of talent at the 174 spot on the roster.
At 184 pounds will be senior captain and NCAA qualifier Dustin Wiles. Wrestling at 174 last season, he led the team with 73 takedowns and eight pins, earning second-team All-Ivy honors and a fifth-place showing at the EIWA Championships and a wild card. He was ranked 19th last season by Amateur Wrestling News and had wins over top-ranked competitors, including 10th-ranked Paul Siemon of Hofstra. Freshman Neil Cisper will be lighting the fire under his tail. Cisper, a two-time state champion and Cadet and Junior National champion, finished his senior season at 43-1, including a remarkable 34 pins.
Wrestling at 197 pounds in the Quaker Red and Blue will be senior captain and two-time NCAA qualifier Paul Velekei. Velekei, who was out last season with an injury, has a Keystone Classic title to his name and third and fourth-place finishes at the EIWAs. Freshman Jack Sullivan, a two-time New York state runner-up, will keep him on his toes.
And finally at 285 pounds are junior Tim Karmazsin and freshmen Jayson Bowlsby and Benjamin Reiter. Karmazsin took fourth at the Central Jersey Open in 2004. Bowlsby is a three-time all-conference selection, section champion, and Minnesota National Freestyle team member, and Reiter captured the league title and was Long Island freestyle champion.
With a strong depth chart up and down the roster, with talent coming equally from the seasoned upperclassmen and anxious newcomers, and with a fresh, enthusiastic coach at the helm, success this season is inevitable and the Quakers will definitely be something to watch.
Written by Maren McCauley