Before the dual, nine-year old Holden Haws of Ephrata, Pa. will officially be "adopted" by the Penn wrestling program as part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. The FOJ is a charitable organization that improves the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families.
Holden was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August of 2008 when he waseight years old. In September of that year, he underwent a craniotomy at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania to remove what was found to be a malignant tumor. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation, with his final treatment taking place on Dec. 31. Since then, he has made follow-up visits to CHOP, with his most recent one on Feb. 15. Along with that visit, Holden made his first visit to Penn's wrestling room. After a tour of campus with coach Rob Eiter and assistant coach Matt Valenti, Holden met with the team and was able to see how a collegiate wrestling team practices.
Friends of Jaclyn pairs children with high school or collegiate athletic teams in their area. The beginning of the relationship is an official "adoption ceremony" which will take place on Sunday before the dual. It is there where the child is surrounded by a whole new group of friends to offer support and encouragement as they continue their own battle. At the moment, there are over 180 children paired with a team throughout the country in over 20 different sports. Penn will be the first collegiate wrestling program involved in FOJ.
Coach Eiter and his team wanted to become more involved in the community this season as a way to expand the team's roots in the area in which it competes.
"We have a lot of guys on the team from this area that care about the people who helped them along the way," Penn's second-year head coach said. "However, we also have quite a few wrestlers from as far away as Hawaii and Florida. It is important that everyone on this team realizes that while you are at Penn, this is your home and there are ways to get involved and become a part of this community."
Eiter and the team inquired with Friends of Jaclyn about joining their foundation and were accepted into the program. Towards the end of January the pairing of Holden and the Penn grapplers was formalized.
If the Quakers are looking for a pep talk before the match on how to achieve their goals, Holden can surely help. Last summer, while undergoing his treatment, Holden helped his baseball team to the district championship - belting a grand slam along the way. He also is an avid basketball player and a big fan of all Philadelphia sports teams. According to Holden's mom, Kristin, he did try wrestling when he was six, but the program was "a bit too intense for that age." She went on to say that perhaps being around the Penn program will rekindle an interest when he heads to middle school. In addition to his athletic prowess, Holden is in the Math Club at school, plays the saxophone, and is an avid Wii player.
Holden and his family - parents Bruce and Kristin, his brother Parke, and his grandmother - will all be in attendance Sunday as Penn closes out its regular season against its most familiar in-state rival, Lehigh.
The Mountain Hawks enter the weekend ranked No. 7 in the country with a 14-3-1 record. This will be the 49th meeting between the two Keystone State powers, a rivalry that dates back to 1912. Last season, Lehigh edged Penn in Bethlehem, 24-12. In 2008, the Quakers held tough on their home mat with a 24-15 win.
The only matchup of ranked wrestlers via the InterMat rankings against Lehigh should come at 174 pounds. No. 19 Scott Giffin will look to defeat Lehigh's No. 16 Robert Hamlin in a key bout for the Quakers to win the dual. Hamlin, a freshman, has seemingly won the starting spot over former NCAA qualifier Alex Caruso and is 14-7 this season. In the NCAA Coaches' Panel released last week, Giffin is one spot ahead of Hamlin at No. 18. Clearly, these two are evenly matched, and the winner of this bout has a leg up on the No. 2 seed at the EIWA Championships in March.
While there aren't many matches with wrestlers ranked in the weekly polls, a look at the Coaches' Panel shows just how close many of the bouts could be. At 133, Bryan Ortenzio comes in at No. 24 while Lehigh has No. 14 Matthew Fisk. At 141, No. 31 Zack Kemmerer will wrestle No. 17 Seth Ciasulli. If No. 27 Matt Dragon is good to go on Sunday, he will line up opposite No. 24 Sean Bilodeau. 165 pounds is a weight Penn may also be a favorite at, with No. 19 Gabriel Burak slated to wrestle No. 25 Brandon Hatchett. Finally, at 197, Penn will start No. 22 Micah Burak against No. 16 Joe Kennedy.
The Quakers are motivated after a tough weekend at home last time out against No. 6 Cornell and a plucky Columbia squad. The Red and Blue wrestlers know that Sunday is the final time to stake their claims to a high seed at the conference meet and will be looking to do so at the expense of perhaps their biggest wrestling rival.
While Lehigh may be Penn's biggest rival on the mat, there is no doubt that Princeton is the school's biggest rival overall. On Saturday, the Quakers finish off Ivy action in New Jersey against the Tigers at 1 p.m.
The Tigers have bounced back from a few off years to enter the weekend 9-9 (by comparison, Princeton was just 2-53 over the previous three dual seasons.) Both teams enter the weekend 3-1 in Ancient Eight duals and the winner will secure second place in the Ivies.
The premier match against Princeton on paper comes at 125 pounds. Both Mark Rappo and Garrett Frey enter the weekend with a 3-1 record in the Ivy League. Rappo is 14-8 overall this season, with 10 wins in dual matches. Frey has a 24-5 record with wins in seven of his last eight bouts. This is another key match with regard to seeding at the conference championships, as a win will look very good on either man's resume.
Penn vs. Princeton Probable Matchups (Records as of 2/21)
125 - Mark Rappo, 14-8 (Penn) vs. Garrett Freyu, 24-5 (Princeton)
133 - Bryan Ortenzio, 26-8 (Penn) vs. Zach Bintliff, 8-12 (Princeton)
141 - Zack Kemmerer, 25-9 (Penn) vs. Luis Ramos, 14-15 (Princeton)
149 - #17 Cesar Grajales, 8-3 (Penn) vs. Daniel Kolodzik, 10-10 (Princeton)
157 - #17 Matt Dragon, 4-2 (Penn) or Troy Hernandez, 10-13 (Penn) vs. Danny Scotton, 14-15 (Princeton)
165 - Gabriel Burak, 29-8 (Penn) vs. Andy Lowy, 15-12 (Princeton) or Mike Alvarez, 3-7(Princeton)
174 - #19 Scott Giffin, 18-4 (Penn) vs. Travis Erdman, 15-13 (Princeton)
184 - Harrison Cook, 8-15 (Penn) vs. Kurt Brendel, 17-14 (Princeton)
197 - Micah Burak, 18-7 (Penn) vs. Charles Fox, 9-23 (Princeton)
285 - Tyler Blakely, 8-14 (Penn) vs. Bobby Grogan, 4-22 (Princeton)
Penn vs. No. 7 Lehigh Probable Matchups (Records as of 2/21)
125 - Mark Rappo, 14-8 (Penn) vs. John McDonald, 8-11 (Lehigh)
133 - Bryan Ortenzio, 26-8 (Penn) vs. #14 Matt Fisk, 16-5 (Lehigh)
141 - Zack Kemmerer, 25-9 (Penn) vs. #15 Seth Ciasulli, 16-10 (Lehigh)
149 - #17 Cesar Grajales, 8-3 (Penn) vs. Joey Napoli, 19-10 (Lehigh)
157 - #17 Matt Dragon, 4-2 (Penn) or Troy Hernandez, 10-13 (Penn) vs. Sean Bilodeau, 13-8 (Lehigh)
165 - Gabriel Burak, 29-8 (Penn) vs. #18 Brandon Hatchett, 9-7 (Lehigh)
174 - #19 Scott Giffin, 18-4 (Penn) vs. #16 Robert Hamlin, 14-7 (Lehigh)
184 - Harrison Cook, 8-15 (Penn) vs. #15 David Craig, 16-4 (Lehigh)
197 - Micah Burak, 18-7 (Penn) vs. #17 Joe Kennedy, 14-10 (Lehigh)
285 - Tyler Blakely, 8-14 (Penn) vs. #6 Zach Rey, 23-3 (Lehigh)
Live video of the Princeton dual can be found here.
Live video of the Leigh dual can be found at PennAthletics.com.
For more information on the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, click here.
To follow Holden Haws' personal journal and story, click here.