PHILADELPHIA – After a one-year hiatus, Penn returns to the Midlands Championships hosted by Northwestern University December 29-30, looking to close the 2014 portion of the season at one of the nation’s toughest tournaments.
The Quakers will enter 11 wrestlers into the tournament, headlined by likely No. 1 seed at 184 pounds Lorenzo Thomas. He will be joined by Caleb Richardson, Jeff Canfora, Andrew Lenzi, C.J. Cobb, May Bethea, Brooks Martino, Joe Heyob, Brad Wukie, Canaan Bethea and Patrik Garren in competition for the Red and Blue this weekend.
If preseeds hold, Thomas will be the first Quaker to earn the top seed in a weight class at Midlands since Matt Feast was No. 1 at heavyweight in 285. Only three Quakers have ever earned the top seed at Midlands, with Yoshi Nakamura (2001) and Brandon Slay (1996) also garnering that prestigious honor.
Penn has had 28 wrestlers place at Midlands all-time, the most recent coming in 2011 when Micah Burak took second at 197 pounds and Zack Kemmerer was seventh at 141. Penn has had two wrestlers win Midlands championships all-time, with Andrei Rodzianko being the first to do so with a championship at 197 in 1998 and Nakamura following with a title at 157 in 2001.
In terms of the team race, the dominant Penn teams of the mid-1990s and early 2000s had great success at Midlands, led by the 1999 squad which placed three wrestlers and finished fourth overall. The Quakers have five total top-10 finishes at Midlands, but have not done so since 2001.
There is no question that the Red and Blue’s coaching staff is well-versed in what it takes to succeed at Midlands. Head coach Alex Tirapelle and his assistants Matt Valenti and Pete Friedl combined for eight placements at Midlands during their collegiate careers. Tirapelle placed all four years he competed for Illinois, winning championships in 2003 and 2005. Tirapelle’s collegiate teammate Friedl placed three times, winning the 184 championship in 2005. Valenti only competed once at Midlands, placing sixth at 125 as a true freshman in 2003 – a tournament which saw all three of Penn’s coaches on the podium at Midlands.
Lorenzo Thomas will lead a field of wrestlers at 184 pounds which will likely include eight of the nation’s Top-20 in the latest InterMat poll and four of the top eight. Thomas is ranked No. 2 this week by InteMat and is 11-1 this season.
C.J. Cobb is ranked No. 11 this week by InterMat and is the No. 6 preseed entering the tournament. Cobb has only wrestled three times this season, but has picked up the win in each bout. He will likely have to navigate a field comprised of six other Top-20 wrestlers, including defending national champion Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern.
Caleb Richardson is on the cusp of breaking into the national rankings and how he handles his No. 10 preseed at 133 pounds could push him over the hump. There are seven Top-20 wrestlers in the field, providing plenty of opportunities for Richardson to add more signature wins to his 11-3 record to this point in the season.
Freshman Joe Heyob is 8-4 this season, and will contest with a 174-pound field which features six Top-20 wrestlers, headlined by No. 2 Mike Evans of Iowa. A deep run from Heyob could propel him into the national discussion. In addition to Heyob, Penn will welcome Brad Wukie back to the lineup this weekend. The runner-up at the EIWA Championships last season and an NCAA qualifier, Wukie has not competed yet this season and will be making his season debut.
Another Quaker returning to the lineup this week is Canaan Bethea. A NCAA qualifier at 184 in 2013, Bethea sat out last season and the first semester of this season and will be returning at 197 pounds. He is likely to be unseeded in the tournament, but seven Top-20 wrestlers line the field and provide ample opportunity for Bethea to reacclimatize himself with top-flight competition.
Almost every match of The Midlands Championships will be streamed live for free via BTN2GO.com. The only matches which will require a television subscription to log in will be the championship finals which will also be televised live on the Big Ten Network.
Schedule for the 2014 Midlands Championships
Monday, December 29
Session I: 10:30 a.m. EST
Session II: 7 p.m. EST
Tuesday, December 30
Session III: 1 p.m. EST
Session IV: 7 p.m. EST