Wrestlers Continue to Climb the Ladder of Success

Penn hosted the 100th Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships and two grapplers earned All-American honors in 2003-04.

April 15, 2004

Climbing the Ladder
"Let's continue to climb the ladder of success and never stop," junior co-captain Matt Feast said to a crowd of Penn family and friends following the 2004 NCAA Championships in St. Louis.

The Penn wrestling team did just that in 2003-04. The Quakers exceeded preseason expectations and finished 14th at the NCAA Championships and ranked 15th in the nation in dual meets after defeating three top-20 teams, including No. 3 Iowa State. The Quakers win over Iowa State was the first victory against the Cyclones in school history and it was only the second time in program history that the Quakers defeated three top-20 opponents in a single season.

At the National Championships, the Quakers finished ahead of nine conference champions and 15 spots higher than last season - a jump no other school came close to matching. Two Quakers walked away with All-American honors after Feast and sophomore Matt Valenti both finished fifth at 285 and 125 pounds, respectively.

Penn's finish this season marked the fifth time in six years the Quakers have placed in the top-20 at the NCAA Championships. The Red and Blue finished second at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships, making it the ninth-consecutive top-three conference finish for the Quakers. A feat only three other schools (Navy, Lehigh and Penn State) have accomplished. Penn continues to lead the EIWA in conference champions in the last eight years after three grapplers (Feast, Valenti and Doug McGraw) earned titles in 2004.

The 2003-04 season also saw seven NCAA qualifiers, an eighth-place finish at the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals, three Keystone Classic champions, three Penn State Open Champions and eight All-Ivy selections including first-team honorees Feast, McGraw and Valenti.

The Red and Blue had one of the biggest upsets in program history at the National Duals in Cleveland, Ohio. The Quakers win over No. 3 Iowa State was Penn's first victory over a top-five team ever. Penn dominated the Cyclones, 26-15, with wins from Mike Silengo (125), Valenti (133), Brett Vanderveer (157), Matt Herrington (174), Marcus Schontube (197) and Feast (285).

"This is a great statement for our program," Head Coach Roger Reina said after the victory. "It is definitely a breakthrough performance and something we can really build on for the rest of the season. We were well prepared for this meet and our guys improved in a lot in key areas from Midlands and Lone Star Duals. Everyone stepped up a notch."

Come from behind
Penn had two come from behind victories this season. The first test came in the first match of the season against No. 14 Wisconsin. The Red and Blue came back from a 15-3 deficit to defeat the Badgers in The Palestra. The Quakers won the last five weight classes en route to a 19-15 victory. Valenti was the deciding factor as he topped Tom Clum, 10-4, in overtime. McGraw, Herrington, junior Paul Velekei, Schontube and Feast also recorded victories.

The Red and Blue did it again against No. 14 West Virginia at the National Duals in Cleveland. After stunning Iowa State in the firs match only to be topped by in-state rivals, No. 6 Penn State in the second round, the Quakers needed a victory against the Mountaineers to stay alive. Valenti won the Quakers' first match, but Penn fell at 133, 141, and 149 to fall behind, 4-11. Junior Kyle Bernholz turned the match around with a 3-2 win over Drew Joseph. Herrington scored five team points with a technical fall over Doug Studenic. In a must win situation, Schontube earned an 8-6 decision over Matt Daddino to keep the Quakers alive. Entering the Heavyweight match, Penn trailed, 18-15. A win would tie the match, but a major decision or pin would win it. Feast did just what he needed for his team, pinning Landfeer Simpson in 4:57.

The Red and Blue's finish in 2004 equaled the Quakers highest finish at the prestigious dual meet tournament when they placed eighth in 2000.

In Da League
Penn opened the Ivy season at home against Cornell. Junior Richard Ferguson and senior Greg Hallahan came up clutch wins at 165 and 174 pounds but it wasn't enough to overcome No. 15 Cornell on Jan. 17. The Ivy League opener for both teams came down to the last match which Cornell won by a riding time point for the 17-15 team victory. Valenti, McGraw and Feast were also victorious in their matches.

The Red and Blue went on to defeat Columbia, 32-9; Brown, 25-13; Harvard, 29-8; and Princeton, 37-3, to finish 4-1 in the Ancient Eight. Feast, Valenti and Schontube went undefeated during those meets, while sophomore Dustin Wiles picked up two wins at 174 pounds and Silengo garnered a win at 125 pounds. Feast and Valenti earned unanimous first-team All-Ivy honors, while Schontube, Ferguson and Vanderveer were named second-team All-Ivy and Matt Eveleth and Ethan Bullock received honorable mention.

Tough Competition
The Red and Blue competed against nine top-15 schools, five of which were in the top-10 during the season. Penn matched up with Penn State twice, first when they were ranked sixth in the nation and again when the Nittany Lions were ninth. Penn also grappled Hofstra twice, first at the National Duals where they were ranked 12th and again during the scheduled dual meet when they were 11th. Penn fared well against the competition as a team, but it was their individual successes that highlighted the rest of the season and prepared the Quakers for the second part of the season - tournament time.

During that time, McGraw took Hofstra's John Manarate in sudden victory and Feast topped No. 2 Pat Cummins of Penn State for the first time all season. Feast's 6-5 victory moved him ahead of Cummins in the national rankings and into second among Division I heavyweights. Valenti defeated Mario Stuart of Lehigh at the dual meet in a preview of the EIWA finals. McGraw lost to Lehigh's Cory Cooperman at the dual meet, but got the best of him in overtime in the EIWA finals.

Celebrating 100
Thirteen schools took part in the 100th EIWA Championships at The Palestra on March 6-7. Penn, who has competed in every tournament since hosting the first event in 1905, took second behind three individual champions. Eight student-athletes placed in all for the Quakers at the 100th EIWA Championships and seven qualified for the NCAA championships. Herrington and Velekei made courageous returns from a seven-week hiatus to finish third and fourth, respectively. Top-seeds Feast and Valenti won titles, but it was third-seed McGraw, who upset the No. 2 seed Max Meltzer in the semifinals and No. 1 seed Cory Cooperman in the finals to win the title at 141 pounds in overtime.

For the eighth-consecutive season the Quakers produced at least one All-American. This season the Red and Blue had two student-athletes earn the honors. Feast became one of six two-time All-Americans in program history and could become the first Quaker and third Ivy League wrestler to earn the distinction three times with a return to the NCAA Championships in 2005. Valenti became only the second grappler in modern wrestling history to earn the honors as a sophomore.

With highlights like Valenti tying the program record for wins (36) in a season and winning three tournament titles including the EIWA Championships, and Feast's earning All-American honors for a second-straight season or McGraw's overtime victory in the EIWA finals, the Red and Blue had much to celebrate in 2003-04. And since only one starter will graduate in May; even more look forward to in 2004-05.

Written by Heather Palmer