PHILADELPHIA - All the workouts, the sprints, the live sessions, the preseason tournaments and strenuous dual meets come down to this weekend for Penn's wrestling team. Six of the 10 starters earned berths at the NCAA Championships and are gunning for a spot on the podium as All-Americas - and more.
The six grapplers slated to represent the Red and Blue cover all spectrums of experience. From fifth-year senior and four-time NCAA qualifier Cesar Grajales to freshman Micah Burak, Penn has a variety of stories looking for memorable endings in Omaha.
Grajales is perhaps the feel-good story of the Quakers. A former EIWA champion and Penn's sixth-highest winner in program history (109 career wins), Grajales was hampered by injury throughout his senior campaign. After only 11 regular season matches, Grajales wrestled up from the seventh seed at EIWAs to claim third place and his fourth berth to the national championships. In his career, Grajales has won five matches at NCAAs, three of which came last year when he went 3-2. In his final NCAA appearance, Grajales again will look to overcome early seeding issues. For the fourth time, Grajales has drawn a wrestler seeded in the top five. And for the second time in a row, his opponent is the three seed. Oklahoma's Kyle Terry, a senior, recently won his second Big 12 title in a row and enters the tournament with a record of 26-2. Both of his losses have come to the bracket's top seed, Lance Palmer of Ohio State. Terry enters on a 17-match win streak and is in his third NCAA Championships, looking for his first trip to the podium.
Penn's other veteran presence at the NCAA Championships this weekend is Scott Giffin. The junior is ranked 13th in the country and was definitely in the mix for a seed for the first time. However, his 23-5 record with all losses inside the top 15 was deemed not enough and Giffin was drawn into a first-round match with second-seeded Jay Borschel of Iowa. Matching up with Iowa at the national championships is never an easy task and Borschel will prove no different. A 2008 All-America, Borschel is 32-0 this season and won the Big 10 title at 174 pounds. Giffin has twice wrestled the top-ranked wrestler in the country at 174, Cornell's Mack Lewnes, and closed the gap from the first meeting to the second. In addition, Giffin was defeated by No. 4 Christopher Henrich of Virginia in sudden victory earlier this season. Giffin can no doubt hang with anyone in the country and is as dangerous as they come. Last year, Giffin won his first NCAA match in his second appearance, defeating No. 10 Kurt Brenner of West Virginias in the first round, 6-3, proving seeding doesn't matter when Giffin is on the mat.
After the two tri-captains, Penn has four wrestlers making their NCAA Championships debuts.
Junior Bryan Ortenzio got over the hump in his third season as a starter, claiming his first berth with a fifth-place finish at EIWAs. Ortenzio has the sixth-most wins of any wrestler at 133 pounds in the country, posting a 29-11 record. Towards the end of the season, Ortenzio began putting together his best effort, losing to No. 14 Matt Fisk of Lehigh, 4-3, in the final seconds before defeating No. 20 William Ashnault of Rutgers, 2-0, at EIWAs. In his first NCAA match, Ortenzio has drawn eighth-seeded Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. Graff is a redshirt freshman in his first NCAA appearance, entering with a 26-7 record. Earlier in the season, Graff won the championship at the prestigious Midlands Championships and finished fourth at Big 10s - a tournament featuring the top three seeds at 133 this weekend in the national tournament.
Junior Zack Kemmerer made the most of his first season as a starter, claiming an NCAA berth via a 29-11 record and a third-place finish at EIWAs. Kemmerer has placed at all five tournaments he has wrestled in this year and, like Ortenzio, is peaking at the right time. At the EIWA Championships, Kemmerer lost to national top seed Kyle Dake of Cornell, 6-2, and came back with a 7-3 win over No. 13 Seth Ciasulli of Lehigh. Kemmerer has drawn Cal-State Bakersfield's Elijah Nacita in the first round. Nacita is currently ranked 13th in the country with an 18-11 record. Nacita is a returning NCAA qualifier who claimed the Pac 10 championship in 2009 and finished fourth this year.
Penn's two other NCAA first-timers are Gabriel and Micah Burak, one of three sets of brothers in the NCAA Championships.
Gabriel led the Quakers in wins this season, getting his hand raised 34 times - tied for sixth all-time in a single season by a Penn wrestler. Along the way, he pinned his opponent a program-record 12 times, bypassing Rick Springman and two-time NCAA champion (and current assistant coach) Matt Valenti who set the previous bar with 11 falls in a season. He enters the tournament unseeded and drew another unseeded wrestler, Josh Asper of Maryland. The two met earlier in the season, with Asper claiming a 12-7 win in an explosive match at the dual between the Quakers and Terrapins. Asper is a redshirt freshman in his first NCAA Championships. This match features the second-highest combined win total of any first round bout, with a combined 65 wins between the two. In fact, both wrestlers find themselves in the top 50 of the entire NCAA Division I in wins.
Gabe's younger brother Micah is Penn's lone freshman to qualify for NCAAs. The younger Burak posted a 22-8 record in his rookie campaign, finishing second at the EIWA Championships. Seven of his eight losses have come to wrestlers inside the top 18 this year - five to wrestlers who will be seeded this weekend. Still, outside a fall to No. 3 Hudson Taylor of Maryland, the combined point difference in the seven losses by Burak is 12. Along the way, he has picked up wins over four ranked wrestlers in the past two months, and can put together an explosive score at any point. His opponent is Buffalo's James Hamel. A second-time NCAA qualifier, Hamel is 26-10 this season and enters the tournament unseeded.
Penn Athletics will have live coverage throughout the NCAA Championships, with live blog updates at www.PennAthletics.com as well as updates on Twitter all day. You can follow live on Twitter via the handle, penngrappling.
Download: 2010 D1 Brackets 3-15-10 300PM.pdf