Penn Wrestling History

April 9, 2004

"That to keep them in health and to strengthen and render active their bodies they be frequently exercised in running, leaping, wrestling and swimming," Ben Franklin wrote these exact words in his proposal for the University of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the founder of Penn drew plans for a wrestling facility in his original proposal.

The University of Pennsylvania holds a very important place in the history of collegiate wrestling. The Quakers had the first reported undergraduate national champion in wrestling, were instrumental in the formation of the first intercollegiate wrestling association, hosted its first tournament and currently shares the longest running dual-meet series in the country. The first collegiate athlete to win a national championship was Winchester Osgood, a football star at Penn. He won the 1893 National Amateur Middleweight Championships of America. He later repeated as champion in 1894 and 1895, demonstrating the sport was practiced at Penn in the 19th century.

J. Edgar Weisenfluh and Charles T. Brown, along with Head Coach J. Leonard Mason, invited all Eastern universities who sponsor wrestling to compete in an intercollegiate association. On April 7, 1905, the first intercollegiate championship was held in Weightman Hall Gym. Princeton, Yale and Columbia joined Penn in founding the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA).

The next few years saw several talented and courageous wrestlers don the Red and Blue including Mike Dorizas in the early teens, who pinned every college opponent he faced in an average time of less than one minute. His senior year, he pined Snyder of Cornell in 0:39, then Jewett of Princeton in 0:20 for the EIWA championship.

Penn's Sam Gerson won 120-lb. title at the Easterns and went on to earn a Silver Medal in the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.

In 1937, the great head coach W. Austin Bishop, took the helm of the Penn Quakers. He formed the "Grapplers Club," the first booster club for intercollegiate wrestling, to "promote the sport of intercollegiate wrestling at Pennsylvania and encourage good fellowship of those interested therein." Two year later, the most courageous athlete in America - blind grappler Bob Allman reached the EIWA finals for the third year.

After recording several losing season, the Quakers turned things around and went undefeated in dual meets in 1941, while National Hall of Famer Richard DiBatista won the 175lbs. EIWA title and the national championship. DiBatista, one of the most storied wrestlers in Penn history won his second national title and capped a perfect career with an 85-0 collegiate record. Don "Doc" Frey became head coach in 1962. Frey captained Penn State's 1953 EIWA and NCAA Championship team. Frey built the program steadily; culminating in the late 60's with a 21-meet unbeaten streak and two Ivy titles. Fifteen of his wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Tournament, including three-time EIWA placewinner Dave Pottruck. Frey retired in 1970 with a 64-25-2 record, but stayed on as head trainer at Penn until 1991.

Former National Champion and Olympian Larry Lauchle was appointed head coach in 1971, the following year, the Quakers won their third Ivy title in five years as Pottruck served as Lauchle's assistant. "Super sophomores" Groverman, Thorne and Waters lead the charge. In 1979, Penn discontinued men's ice hockey and golf and announces that wrestling is next to go. The following year, Penn team members meet with Athletic Director Charles Harris and are informed that the program will be phased out over the next four years. For the next four years, Lauchle, the team and alumni fight to keep wrestling as a varsity sport. Alumni and community support revitalizes program.

Roger Reina and Gary Giegerich captained Penn to a 13-10-1 season, the first time the team finishes over .500 in 10 years. In 1986, Reina was hired as head coach and his first team recorded a 6-14 mark. Reina's first recruiting class arrived the following year and the team posted a 10-8-1 mark. During the 1988 season, Steve Brody qualified for the NCAA Tournament at 190 lbs. Penn hosted the NWCA All-Star Match and sets a meet attendance record and with an upgraded schedule, Penn finished 10-8. The Quakers finished the 1980s with a 17-5-1 record, which tied for third in the league and set a school record for dual wins in a season.

The early '90s' saw the Quakers close with an 8-9 mark in dual meets in a markedly upgraded schedule. But, the team rebounded for the EIWA Tournament and has its best showing since 1975. Sophomore Adam Green advanced to the finals and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The following year Green marked his third consecutive NCAA appearance and set the Penn career wins mark with 87, passing DiBitista.

In the next several years, the Quakers returned to the top of the Ivy League and EIWA Championships and broke into the top-25 in the country. Young talent like Brandon Slay and Brett Matter emerged on the scene, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors (1994) and EIWA Outstanding Freshman accolades (1995), respectively. Penn was fourth on the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic Team listing.

Nineteen ninety-seven saw the Quakers set several EIWA records in winning their second title. The Quakers scored a meet-record 183 points and finished the season ranked 15th in the nation by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Slay reached the NCAA finals and wrestled in front of the largest crowd in U.S. history after earning EIWA and Ivy League Wrestler of the Year accolades.

Penn captured its third-consecutive Ivy Championship in 1998 and remained perfect (15-0) in Ivy competition during the last three years. The Quakers also won its third-straight EIWA Championship as Steve Walker and Brandon Slay won individual titles. Penn sent five grapplers to NCAAs, where Slay finished second at 167 lbs. and was named All-American, Unanimous EIWA Wrestler of the Year, Ivy League Wrestler of the Year and was the Fletcher Award winner, given to the wrestler who has made the greatest contribution to the EIWA Tournament.

The following year, Penn produced three NCAA All-Americans in Bandele Adeniyi-Bada, Brett Matter and Andrei Rodzianko while recording an 11th place finish at NCAA's. The Quakers finish the dual-meet season unbeaten (10-0-2, 4-0-1 Ivy League) for the first time since 1968-69 and win their fourth straight EIWA Championship and their fifth Ivy League Championship; Rodzianko earned the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament award as well as the 1999 John Fletcher Memorial Trophy. Reina earned his third EIWA Coach of the Year honor (1996 and '97), and Reina and Assistant Coach Brian Dolph are nominated for National Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year honors.

The year 2000 may have been the most successful year for the Penn grapplers as senior Brett Matter won the NCAA Wrestling Championship at 157 lbs. Penn recorded a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships and boasted three NCAA semifinalists in Adeniyi-Bada (sixth), Matter (first) and Rick Springman (fifth). Penn placed fourth of 56 teams at the Midland Championships, its highest finish to date, claimed its fifth-straight Ivy League title at 5-0. Matter was named EIWA Outstanding Wrestler and Fletcher Award, while Springman won the Sheridan Award for most falls/least time at EIWAs. Wharton graduate Brandon Slay and former Assistant Coach Brian Dolph finish first and third, respectively, at the 2000 U.S. National Wrestling Freestyle Championships, both qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Slay earned a spot on U.S. Olympic team by defeating Dolph and went on to earn a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games.

The success did not stop there. Penn started five freshmen in the 2000-01 lineup and captured its sixth-straight Ivy League title. The Red and Blue finished second at the EIWA Championship and pulled off a top-20 finish at the 2001 NCAA Championships in Iowa City, Iowa. Yoshi Nakamura and Mike Fickell earned All-American honors after finishing fifth and seventh, respectively. In 2002, the Quakers finished the season with a 10-4 record and captured a record- tying seventh-consecutive Ivy League Championship with a 5-0 mark. Penn climbed the national dual-meet rankings to eighth in the nation and received that same ranking in the end of the season polls. The Red and Blue became the first Ivy League school to be ranked in the top-10 since Cornell in 1961. Penn's ranking was cemented with an eighth-place finish at the Cliff Keen/NWCA National Duals. Penn also had a fifth-place finish at the Midlands Championships. The Quakers went on to finish second at the EIWA Championships with two champions and eight placewinners, while qualifying six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships. Penn attained its fourth consecutive top-20 finish with an 11th-place finish in Albany, N.Y., and added three All-Americans in Nakamura, Josh Henson and Springman.

In 2002-03, Penn sent four wrestlers to the Round of 12 at the NCAA Tournament with six wrestlers qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Sophomore Matt Feast's NCAA All-American status marks the seventh-straight year a Penn wrestler earned that distinction. Freshman Matt Valenti won 33 matches in his rookie season, the most by a freshman in program history. He also tied the single-season falls record, recording 11 during the season. Penn finished ranked 16th in the country by Intermat.

Last season, the Quakers recorded the biggest upset in program history when they defeated No. 3 Iowa State at the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals in Cleveland, Ohio. It marked the first ever win over a top-five school. The Red and Blue tied their best performance at the National Duals, placing eighth. Penn went on to defeat two more top-20 opponents for only the second time in wrestling history. The Red and Blue finished second at the 100th EIWA Championships behind three champions in Matt Valenti, Matt Feast and Doug McGraw. Seven grapplers qualified for the NCAA Championships where the Quakers finished 14th, marking their fifth top-20 finish in six years. Valenti and Feast both earned All-American status with fifth-place finishes. Valenti tied the single season record for wins in a season with 36. Eight student-athletes were named to the All-Ivy team including unanimous first-team honorees, Matt Valenti and Matt Feast. Doug McGraw also earned a first team nod.