Wrestling Opens 2006-07 With High Hopes

PHILADELPHIA - The 2006-07 edition of the Penn wrestling team is set to start its season this Sunday at the Michigan State Open. Some things to think about as the Quakers begin the road to the 2007 NCAA Championships...

• Penn returns one national champion, two All-Americans and four NCAA qualifiers overall for 2006-07. Matt Valenti returns after capturing the national title at 133 lbs., Matt Herrington will look to follow up on his fifth-place finish at 174 lbs., and Matt Dragon will build on a freshman campaign that saw him reach the round of 12 at 149 lbs.

• Penn is ranked 14th in the preseason USAToday/InterMat/NWCA poll after finishing 12th overall at NCAA Championships last year. Four Quakers - No. 1 Matt Valenti, No. 2 Matt Herrington, No. 4 Matt Dragon and No. 19 Cesar Grajales - are ranked in their respective weight classes.

• Head Coach Zeke Jones returns for his sophomore season after an overwhelmingly successful first year at the helm that saw his team place 12th at NCAA Championships and earn an 11-5 overall dual-meet record. Jones was named National Rookie Coach of the Year by Amateur Wrestling News.

• This year, Penn will certainly gain some points at the lower weights. At 125 lbs., senior Matt Eveleth and freshman Rollie Peterkin will all be in the mix. Eveleth was a 2004 honorable mention All-Ivy and spent last season at 133 lbs., Gold won at 125 at the Keystone Classic last year, and Peterkin is a promising former three-time Massachusetts state champion.

• Matt Valenti will defend his national crown at 133 lbs., but Eveleth and sophomore Andrew Gold will also see time. Valenti went 36-2 last year, and became the fastest Penn wrestler to achieve 100 career wins. He was also named the EIWA Wrestler of the Year.

• Coach Jones will also have 141 lbs. well taken care of with returning NCAA qualifier Cesar Grajales. Grajales posted a 26-12 record and earned honorable mention All-Ivy. Brett McCurdy, who placed fourth at the FILA Junior Trials this summer, will also provide a solid option, and Rick Rappo will wrestle at 141 as well.

• The 149 lbs. weight class will have NCAA qualifier and EIWA champion Matt Dragon returning. As a freshman, he turned in a fantastic campaign, going 32-8, reaching the NCAA Round of 12, and earning first-team All-Ivy honors. Senior captain Rob Hitschler will also be a factor at 149, as will sophomore Dan Burkholder.

• Gene Zannetti will be back at 157 lbs. Zannetti went 24-12 last year and earned honorable mention All-Ivy honors after a fifth-place showing at EIWA’s.

• A quartet of experienced grapplers will compete for time at 165 lbs. Zack Shanaman, Jeff Zannetti, Brock Wittmeyer and Andrew Coles have all competed at 165 in the past, with Shanaman and Wittmeyer returning from injuries last year.

• Senior All-American Matt Herrington will be the key factor at 174 lbs. Last year, Herrington put together a 23-7 season and finished fifth at the NCAA Championships. He was unanimously named first-team All-Ivy and was an EIWA finalist. Junior Lior Zamir will split time between 174 and 184, and Jack Kitchen will also wrestle at 174 lbs.

• Zamir will move up and primarily compete at 184 after going 21-11 a year ago at 165 and 174 lbs. Sophomore Colin Hitschler will also be a factor, as will Neil Cisper.

• Experienced sophomore Jack Sullivan, who split time between 197 and heavyweight last year, will be in the mix along with newcomer Thomas Shovlin for the 197 lbs. class. Sullivan went 8-11 a year ago, while Shovlin was the PIAA-AAA state runner-up in 2006.

• After a rotating cast at heavyweight last year, three grapplers — Adam Cooney, Trey McLean and Jason Bowlsby — will take care of the top class. Cooney returns to the team after a two-year hiatus, McLean is a highly-touted transfer who trained at the U.S. Olympic Center, and Bowlsby is an experienced returner who went 6-12 last season.

• The Quakers will face one of the toughest schedules in recent memory this season, with multiple national tournaments and some tough dual meets on the slate. The National Duals and the Northeast Duals will be highlights, as well as home dual meets with the likes of Hofstra, Nebraska and Harvard.

Quoting Head Coach Zeke Jones

On having two returning All-Americans:
“It’s always a positive, having that leadership. There’s always a certain confidence with people who have been there and done that. I think with Matt Valenti and Matt Herrington’s prior successes, the goal is that it will rub off on the rest of the group.”

On building on last year’s success:
“I still think we’re hungry. I don’t feel any aspects of satisfaction. The bar of this program is higher than a 12th-place finish. We have more work to do.”

On parity in the EIWA:
“The great thing is, anyone is capable. There are three or four teams that are capable of winning this year versus one or two in years past. That parity is healthy and good.”

On the strength of Penn’s lower weight classes:
"We’ve got a lot of experience coming up in those first several weight classes. With that group, we certainly have a lot of strength to draw on. It will give us some momentum, especially in dual meets, if we start on the lower weight classes.”

On the upper weight classes:
“We’ve brought in several new guys who can make an impact. I think we can turn it into a strength in our line-up. Thomas Shovlin, Lior Zamir and Neil Cisper at 184, Jack Sullivan and maybe one of those other three at 197, and Adam Cooney, Trey McLean and Jason Bowlsby at heavyweight, we have a nucleus of guys who can carry the torch and make an impact.”

On the team’s balance of youth and experience:
“There’s a mix of youth and experience, but the feeling is that of an experienced group. Thirty or so of them are returners, but 15 of them are just second-year guys. They feel like they’re a veteran group.”

On the team’s strong schedule:
“We’re going to be in some battles, that’s for sure. We’ll jump right into the fire at Michigan State. We’ll wrestle No. 1 Minnesota at Albany — it will be our first big test to find out what we’re capable of and where we are in November.”

On being invited to the National Duals:
“The Penn program is one that has had a tremendous amount of success. It’s certainly flattering to be invited to the National Duals. It’s a program success. It’s the program working hard to achieve its goals — the athletes, the coaches, the administration and the staff.”

On his goal for 2006-07:
“My goal for this season is to help the team maximize its potential, to get the most out of ourselves at the right times of the year. I’m excited about this year.”