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PHILADELPHIA - For the first time since 2004, Penn will head to the Midlands Championships on Dec. 29-30 at Northwestern University as the Quakers look to make their presence felt on a national level at one of the regular season's elite tournaments.
The Red and Blue were 13th out of 60 teams at the 2004 Midlands, with Matt Feat placing second and Jeff Eveleth placing eighth. One member of the Red and Blue without question looking forward to the return to Evanston will be head coach Rob Eiter. Before coming to Penn in 2006, Eiter was an assistant coach at Northwestern from 1997-2006, with 2002-06 spent as a primary assistant following time as a volunteer assistant.
The 49th Midlands Championships will once again bring many of the elite programs from around the country to Welsh-Ryan Arena, with over 40 Division I, II, and III teams entered. In addition to the Quakers, No. 1 Iowa, No. 7 Illinois, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 11 Lehigh, No. 13 Maryland, No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 17 Rutgers, No. 18 Northwestern, No. 19 Central Michigan and No. 24 Edinboro are all slated to compete in addition to perennial powers Iowa State, American, Wisconsin and Cal Poly.
One constant at the Midlands throughout the years is that the road to an NCAA title often goes through the tournament. Last year, five of the 20 wrestlers in the finals at Midlands went on to compete in the championship match at NCAAs in March, with three of those five wrestlers going on to stand at the top of the podium.
For No. 2 Zack Kemmerer, the field at 141 gives the returning All-American an opportunity to show the rest of the country that he is a national title contender as he will look to navigate a loaded field. In addition to No. 1 Montell Marion of Iowa, the lineup at 141 is likely to include No. 4 Boris Novachkov (Cal Poly), No. 7 Kendric Maple (Oklahoma), No. 8 Stephen Dutton (Lehigh), No. 9 Matt Mariarcher (American) and No. 18 Mitchell Port (Edinboro).
Kemmerer is 10-0 this season, but does have an unofficial loss to Novachkov at the All-Star Classic, that should not be included in the seeding discussion. Marion is the likely No. 1 seed in the bracket, and Kemmerer/Novachkov should be No. 2 and No. 3 in some order.
At 133, Bryan Ortenzio is off to a 15-0 start to the season and has yet to allow an offensive point en route to a No. 13 national ranking. He will likely be seeded somewhere in the No. 5-7 range, though, as 133 is another weightclass with many high-ranking wrestlers on the preliminary entry list. At the top will be No. 2 Tony Ramos of Iowa, followed by No. 4 B.J. Futrell of Illinois, No. 5 Devin Carter of Virginia Tech, No. 7 Cashe Quiroga of Purdue, No. 8 A.J. Schopp of Edinboro, No. 9 Steven Keith of Harvard and No. 12 Jordan Keller of Oklahoma. Ortenzio has a 6-5 win over Keith t his credit this season, but has not wrestled the other wrestlers ranked ahead of him.
Freshman Steve Robertson will be returning to his home state of Illinois for the competition. His hometown of Lombard, Ill. is roughly a marathon's distance away from Evanston, and the two-time Illinois state champion will look to wrestle his way to another high finish inside his home state. Robertson is 15-2 this season, and on the precipice of entering the InterMat rankings. If he is to find success at Midlands, he will do so while navigating a challenging field which features No. 3 Marion Mason (Rutgers), No. 6 Eric Terrazas (Illinois), No. 8 Ivan lopouchanski (Purdue), No. 9 Cole Schmidt (Wisconsin ), No. 10 David Habat (Edinboro), No. 12 Nick Lester (Oklahoma) and No. 13 Josh Wilson (Utah Valley).
No. 8 Micah Burak will likely be seeded third at 197 behind No. 3 Chris Honeycut (Edinboro) and No. 7 Joe Kennedy (Lehigh). Other national contenders probable to wrestle include No. 9 Christian Boley (Maryland), No. 13 Mario Gonzalez (Illinois), No. 14 Daniel Mitchell (American), No. 16 A.J. Kissel (Purdue) and No 19 Alex Thomas (Clarion).
Another weight class which is stacked with national contenders offering a Penn freshman a chance to make an impact on the national scope is 165 pounds. Rookie Lorenzo Thomas is 11-5 this season, with four losses to wrestlers inside the Top 20. One of those losses came to No. 2 Josh Asper (Maryland) who is likely the top seed at Midlands. Other high-ranking grapplers slated to be entered at the tournament include No. 7 Scott Winston (Rutgers), No. 8 Bekzod Aburakhmonavo (Clarion), No. 9 Brandon Hatchett (Lehigh), No. 14 Peter Yates (Virginia Tech).
Penn Athletics will be on the road with the team during its trip to Evanston, providing live updates via Twitter @PennWrestling.
Penn's Probable Lineup at the Midlands Championships
125 - Geoffrey Bostany, So. (4-9)
133 - #13 Bryan Ortenzio, Sr. (15-0)
141 - #2 Zack Kemmerer, Sr. (10-0)
141 - Mark Pinero, Fr. (7-5)
149 - Steve Robertson, Fr. (15-2)
165 - Lorenzo Thomas, Fr. (11-5)
174 - Ian Korb, Fr. (10-8)
184 - Erich Smith, Sr. (10-8)
197 - #8 Micah Burak, Jr. (5-1)
285 - Anthony DiLonardo, Fr. (3-8)