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PHILADELPHIA - Last year at this time, an under-the-radar Penn wrestling team came from the middle of the pack to claim a second-place finish at the EIWA Championships, solidifying Penn's position as an upper-echelon squad inside the EIWA. Fast-forward 365 days and Penn is again in a similar position as the 13 EIWA programs convene upon Lewisburg, Pa. for the 107th EIWA Championships hosted by Bucknell University March 5-6.
Based off the pre-tournament rankings, the Quakers (10-6 in dual meets) are ranked No. 5 as a team heading into the weekend. The Red and Blue have seven wrestlers ranked inside the Top-Six of the EIWA after the final coaches poll, but none are the odds-on favorite heading into the weekend as Mark Rappo (125) and Zack Kemmerer (141) are the highest-ranked Penn grapplers at No. 2.
The similarities between 2010 and 2011 are striking. Both teams suffered tough losses to Lehigh in the final dual meet of the season (30-9 in 2010 and 35-4 in 2011). The pre-tournament polls had the team slotted in the quagmire (No. 7 in 2010 and No. 5 in 2011). No Penn wrestler was ranked No. 1 (only one No. 2 in 2010 compared to a pair of No. 2 wrestlers in 2011).
However, during the tournament, Penn had four wrestlers finish above their pre-tournament seed and four more wrestle to their ranking. Nine of the ten wrestlers won at least one match and Penn had nine wins which included bonus points, showing it is not where you are seeded heading into the tournament, it is what you do at the event that counts.
The 2011 edition of the Red and Blue is stronger up and down the lineup, with seven wrestlers ranked inside the Top-33 of the NCAA Coaches Panel, four inside the Top-20 and three inside the Top-10. A wrestler outside the Top-20 is 2010 NCAA All-American No. 24 Scott Giffin. At heavyweight, Penn boasts the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in No. 33 Kyle Cowan. Every single wrestler Penn is sending out has at least one dual meet win against an EIWA opponent, and 141-pounder Zack Kemmerer is a whopping 14-1 against wrestlers from EIWA schools this season.
The talent is evident and the track record shows that Penn will be ready when the first whistles blow on Saturday morning. Over the past five EIWA tournaments, Penn has finished no lower than a tie for third place. Over that span, only one other team has been inside the top-three all five years, four-time defending champion Cornell.
While final seeds will be determined Friday night at the coaches meeting, here is a breakdown of the tournament weight-by-weight and how Penn stacks up.
125 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
One of the most loaded weights at the tournament, the EIWA has seven wrestlers inside the Top-33 of the NCAA Coaches Panel and they will be competing for just five automatic bids to NCAAs. Cornell's No. 12 Frank Perrelli should be the top seed after his 4-2 win over No. 15 Mark Rappo a few weeks ago, but arguments could be made for any of the top four wrestlers at this weight to be the top seed. No one has navigated the regular season undefeated inside the conference at this weight, but Rappo has done a pretty good job for the Quakers with a 25-7 record and a 10-2 record against EIWA opponents. His only other loss was a 2-0 decision to American's No. 28 Naryman Arujau at the Binghamton Open back in November. Four of the top-six placewinners from 2010 return here, including runner-up No. 18 Garrett Frey of Princeton, whom Rappo defeated earlier this season, and third-place finisher No. 31 Steven Keith of Harvard whom Rappo has defeated three times this season.
133 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 3)
This weight is an interesting one as the top-ranked wrestler according to the NCAA Coaches Panel may well end up as the third seed. Penn's No. 8 Rollie Peterkin is 23-4 overall this season and 20-3 while at 133 pounds. However, two of his losses have come in recent weeks to wrestlers who may have taken away the top seed. No. 9 Mike Grey of Cornell is the defending champion at this weight and the likely top seed based on his 10-5 win over Peterkin Feb. 11. Lehigh's No. 15 Frank Cagnina is 16-4 in his freshman season and likely bumped ahead of Peterkin with a 5-2 win over Rollie two weeks ago. Peterkin is no stranger to the EIWA Championships, with a 2008 title at 125 pounds and a 2009 runner-up finish. There are a lot of fresh faces at this weight, as only Courtlandt Choate of Brown returns as a placewinner from 2010.
141 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
Five more AQs are at stake at 141, with an interesting debate about the No. 1 seed set to take place. Penn's Zack Kemmerer is ranked No. 10 in the nation at the weight and is tied for second among all EIWA wrestlers with 31 wins. However, he dropped an 8-7 decision to No. 24 Stephen Dutton of Lehigh two weeks ago. Is that win enough to bring the 17-10 Dutton ahead of the 31-6 Kemmerer who also owns a win over No. 12 Matt Mariarcher of American and two wins over No. 30 Corey Manson of Cornell? Dutton also has wins over those two wrestlers, so it may be. Kemmerer is one of two returning placewinners from 2010, as his third-place finish is joined by No. 22 Trevor Melde of Rutgers who took sixth. Kemmerer has been on fire for most of 2010-11, with four of his losses inside the Top-10 and tournament wins at the Binghamton Open and Keystone Classic to go with a sixth at the Southern Scuffle. Mariarcher is 27-7 this season, with wins over Arizona State's Chris Drouin and Maryland's Jon Kohler. Army's No. 32Casey Thome is also a top contender with a 27-8 record as the EIWA has six Top-33 wrestlers looking for the five AQs.
149 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
The EIWA has a few weights where the conference tournament finals could be a preview of the NCAA finals, and 149 is one of those classes. Defending EIWA and NCAA champion at 141 pounds Kyle Dake of Cornell has moved up a weight and continued his success. He is 24-1 this season and ranked No. 2 overall. Right behind him is No. 4 Kevin LeValley of Bucknell who is 26-1 overall. In all, four of the top-nine NCAA wrestlers are from the EIWA when No. 7 Ganbayar Sanjaa of American and No. 9 Mario Mason of Rutgers are added in. Dake is the likely and deserved top seed while LeValley should be No. 2 despite his loss to Mason. Sanjaa has a win over Mason and that should be enough to lock up the three seed. Mason, in addition to his loss at the hands of Sanjaa picked up a defeat from Lehigh's No. 25 Joey Napoli two weeks ago, so those two will be discussed for the No. 4 seed. Penn will send freshman Andrew Lenzi to the tournament with a 15-13 record overall. He has grown into 149 as the season progressed, with an early takedown of LeValley in their match showing he can score. With only 12 wrestlers at this weight, there will be some big matches early and the wrestlebacks will be important to team score and individual qualifiers.
157 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
Here is another weight where a possible NCAA finals preview could happen at the conference level. Undefeated No. 1 Steve Fittery of American is 24-0 and the prohibitive No. 1 seed here. He is joined by No. 6 Walter Peppelman of Harvard and No. 8 Bryce Saddoris of Navy. Last year, Saddoris finished second to eventual national champion J.P. O'Connor of Harvard while Fittery was third. No. 11 Daryl Cocozzo of Rutgers was fourth last year and back again as is sixth-place finisher Brantley Hooks of Bucknell. Inside the EIWA, Saddoris enters ranked No. 2 based on his 5-1 decision over Peppelman in Las Vegas back in December. No. 15 D.J. Meagher of Cornell is likely the No. 5 seed while Sean Bilodeau of Lehigh could take the No. 6 seed. A wrestler to watch is No. 31 Daniel Kolodzik of Princeton who is 22-13 this year, including a close 2-0 loss to Peppelman. He may not be a favorite to win, but is dangerous and can find his way to fifth place. Penn lines up freshman Brad Wukie who is 9-16 this year. If he can avoid leaving his shoulder exposed (seven losses by fall this year), he can steal some wins for the Red and Blue.
165 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 4)
This weight is wide open with three of the top-five placewinners in 2010 back to compete. No. 5 Justin Kerber from Cornell is the likely top seed with a 28-2 record. However, one of those losses came via a 3-2 decision to No. 14 Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh who was the runner-up to Andy Rendos in 2010. Is that enough to move the 15-8 Hatchett to the top spot? No. 11 Scott Winston is also in play at this weight competing for Rutgers. He went 17-3 in the regular season, with a loss to Hatchett, 7-2, in his final bout of the season. Penn's No. 25 Gabriel Burak finished fifth in 2010 at 165 and is in a fight for the fourth seed with Eren Civan of Columbia. Burak is 15-5 this season with a win over No. 28 Jim Resnick of Rider and No. 31 Patrick Graham of American. Civan has had Burak's number, though, with three wins between this year and last. Civan is 18-10 overall, and there will be plenty to talk about at that seed.
174 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
This is always a deep weight at the EIWA Championships and 2011 is no different. Three-time EIWA champion (2x at 165; 1x at 174) Mack Lewnes of Cornell is back to defend his title while looking to join an elite group of wrestlers with four EIWA crowns. He is the No. 3 wrestler in the country with a 32-2 record and the definitive No. 1 seed at the tournament. A wrestler Lewnes has a 4-1 win over is No. 9 Austin Meys of Lehigh, the likely second seed. Meys is 19-8 in his first season as a starter and has boasted a record that should make his 6-5 loss to No. 22 Matt DeMichiel of Navy not enough for the second seed. DeMichiel is 22-6 overall and in a battle with No. 16 Alex Caruso of Rutgers for the third seed. Caruso is 28-8 overall, and has only lost to wrestlers inside the top-nine of the country. The two have not met this year, so there will be plenty of discussion on comparable opponents. The No. 5 seed will be Penn's Scott Giffin. Ranked No. 24 in the country, Giffin has battled injury all season to a 16-7 record. Giffin is a returning NCAA All-American after his seventh place finish in 2010 and has three times placed at the EIWA Championships (2nd in 2010, 6th in 2009, 3rd in 2008). If he has to meet up with Caruso again, the two will revitalize a long rivalry dating back to high school which has seen Giffin take five of eight matches in college.
184 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 4)
This is a top-heavy weight class with two wrestlers inside the top-six of the NCAA rankings in No. 4 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh and No. 6 Steve Bosak of Cornell. Hamlin enters as the top-ranked wrestler according to the EIWA rankings, and has a 5-4 win over Bosak this season to his credit. Bosak is 27-2 with his only other loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Chris Honeycutt of Edinboro. Lurking behind those two is No. 13 Luke Rebertus of Navy. He has handed Hamlin one of his two losses with a 5-4 win in mid-January and owns a 3-2 win in a third tiebreaker over No. 22 Daniel Rinaldi of Rutgers the likely fourth seed. Penn's Erich Smith has only nine matches to his credit this season, but gave Hamlin a good effort two weeks ago in a dual and will be counted upon to provide wins for Penn's team score.
197 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 5)
Again, the EIWA is loaded at this weight with two of the top six wrestlers in the country. No. 1 Cam Simaz of Cornell is 27-1 this season while No. 6 Micah Burak of Penn is 23-5. Simaz suffered his only loss in a dual to No. 4 Dustin Kilgore of Kent State, a wrestler Burak then defeated at the Southern Scuffle. Interestingly enough, while Burak is ranked No. 6 in the country, he could fall down to the third or even fourth seed depending on how the seeding meeting goes. Burak was ranked No. 4 by the EIWA coaches in the final ranking behind Lehigh's No. 13 Joseph Kennedy and American's No. 19 Daniel Mitchell. Kennedy has a stake to the No. 2 seed after his 4-3 win over Burak in the dual, but Burak owns a win over Mitchell by fall in the Keystone Classic. An added monkey wrench in the whole thing is Mitchell bringing a 3-2 win over Kennedy with him to the table. Bucknell's Jay Hahn is ranked No. 26 in the country and earned the fifth AQ for the conference after a 28-8 season and has wrestler Burak, Kennedy and Mitchell close in three losses.
285 (Automatic Qualifiers Awarded - 4)
No one will have to worry about the heavyweight field lacking in excitement at the EIWAs this year. Three of the top four big men in the country reside in the EIWA and six of the top 33. No. 1 in the country Zachery Rey of Lehigh is 26-0 with wins over everyone. No. 3 Ryan Flores of American is 18-5 with a pair of losses to Rey. His 9-2 win over No. 4 D.J. Russo of Rutgers should lock up the No. 2 seed for Flores. Despite that big loss to Flores, Russo is 26-5 with two losses to Flores, one to Rey and one to No. 2 Jarod Trice of Central Michigan. The No. 4 seed will be No. 27 Kevin Lester of Columbia. He is 23-6 this season and has won 15 matches in a row. One of those wins was a 4-3 decision over Penn's No. 33 Kyle Cowan. That will separate those two and give Cowan the fifth seed, one spot away from an AQ. Cowan, who showed Rey how tough he can be with his ride in the second period of their dual bout, is 16-12 this season and the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. He was won close bouts and showed a penchant for pinning, which is always dangerous at the heavyweight level.