Wrestling Set for EIWA Championships

106th EIWA Championships Homepage

PHILADELPHIA - After 194 matches starting last November 15, the Penn wrestling team finally begins postseason competition this weekend at the 106th EIWA Championships hosted by Lehigh University. The 13 member schools of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association will convene on Bethlehem starting at 10 a.m. on March 6, with the finals scheduled to begin March 7 at 3 p.m.

The ultimate prize at the end of the tournament is one to the 10 spots atop the podium as conference champion. The Quakers went without a conference champion in 2009 - the first time that occurred in 14 years. However, the Red and Blue will send two wrestlers to the mat this weekend who have a combined three EIWA championships between them in seniors Matt Dragon and Cesar Grajales.

Dragon is a two-time EIWA champion, one of 11 Quakers to accomplish such a feat. He won the crown at 149 pounds in 2006 and followed that up with a win at 157 in 2007. Dragon has been hampered by injuries in his final campaign, but enters the bracket at 157 pounds as the probable fifth seed and could throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing with his wealth of experience.

Grajales, like his classmate Dragon, has been battling injuries all season. He has only lined up 11 times this season, but has an 8-3 record in those bouts. In 2008, Grajales was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the EIWA Championships after coming from the two seed to win the championship at 149 pounds. In arguably the most loaded weightclass in the whole tournament, Grajales will likely be a low seed based on two losses in conference at the end of the season, but no doubt is a darkhorse to advance and cause havoc in the later rounds.

The Quakers only return four wrestlers with experience at the conference championships this weekend and will have to quickly overcome any pre-Championships jitters. In addition to Dragon and Grajales, juniors Bryan Ortenzio (133) and Scott Giffin (174) also have Championships starts in their career - each having previously placed at the EIWAs.

Giffin is a two-time placewinner, reaching third place in 2008 and sixth last year. By the numbers, Giffin is Penn's most likely finalist. He is currently ranked 14th in the country with a 20-4 record. Giffin is the probable second seed at 174 this weekend, behind Cornell's undefeated - and national No. 1 - Mack Lewnes. The two wrestled earlier this season, with Lewnes taking a 13-4 win. Giffin was close to doing something no other grappler has done all season - scoring offensive points on Lewnes - but the possible Hodge Trophy winner as the nation's best wrestler was able to hold off Giffin's attack. There is no doubt Giffin is focused on getting another chance at Lewnes. After a convincing 12-5 win over Lehigh's Robert Hamlin (probable fourth seed this weekend) Giffin is feeling confident heading into the conference meet.

Ortenzio will also be making his third EIWAs appearance, hoping to improve upon a fifth-place finish in 2009. According to the preseeds released last night, Ortenzio looks to be the fifth seed again this year and has a chance to avenge some of his more disappointing losses this season. Ortenzio has only come up on the short side of the equation nine times this season, and five of those losses have come to the top two seeds.

Penn's complete lineup for the 106th EIWA Championships (Preseed in parenthesis)

125 - (6) Mark Rappo, So. 15-9, 1st appearance

133 - (5) Bryan Ortenzio, Jr. 27-9, 3rd appearance - 2009 (5th), 2008 (DNP)

141 - (4) Zack Kemmerer, Jr. 26-10, 1st appearance

149 - (7) Cesar Grajales, Sr. 8-3, 4th appearance - 2009 (5th), 2008 (1st), 2006 (3rd)

157 - (5) Matt Dragon, Sr. 5-4, 4th appearance - 2009 (4th), 2007 (1st), 2006 (1st)

165 - (5) Gabriel Burak, Jr. 30-9, 1st appearance

174 - (2) Scott Giffin, Jr. 20-4, 3rd appearance - 2009 (6th), 2008 (3rd)

184 - Harrison Cook, Fr. 9-6, 1st appearance

197 - (3) Micah Burak, Fr. 20-7, 1st appearance

285 - Tyler Blakely, Sr. 8-16, 1st appearance

While the biggest prize is the EIWA championship at each weight, every wrestler taking the mat this weekend is also focused on automatically qualifying for the NCAA Championships. The EIWA has been awarded 41 automatic qualifying spots for NCAAs and those AQs will be determined based on the results this weekend. Any wrestler, no matter their record who places high enough as determined by the NCAA allocations will earn a trip to Omaha for the national tournament. The AQs for each weight this weekend are as follows: 125 (4 AQs), 133 (5), 141 (3), 149 (4), 157 (4), 165 (6), 174 (4), 184 (4, 197 (4), 285 (3). Wrestlers who do not reach the minimum place still have a chance to earn an at-large selection to the NCAA Championships as determined by the selection committee next week.

Previewing the 2010 EIWA Championships ...

125: Cornell returns 2009 national champion Troy Nickerson to defend his EIWA crown. Nickerson is 10-1 this season, with his only loss an injury default due to an injured shoulder that has limited his competition time. He is still widely regarded as the top wrestler in the country at 125 when healthy and has the entire conference chasing him. Freshman Joe Langel of Rutgers and senior Jasen Borshoff of American are also in the top 20, but Langel owns an 8-6 (SV) win over Borshoff. The overriding theme for this weight after Nickerson is that they have all beaten each other at some point. Penn's Mark Rappo has defeated Garrett Frey (Princeton) and Kyle Gilchrist (Columbia) but lost to Lehigh's John McDonald. The 125-pound class is always exciting, but this year even more so with the unpredictability on who will have the other spot in the final.

133: The Big Red have the top spot here as well, one of five probable top seeds in the tournament. Mike Grey is ranked 10th in the nation with a 32-6 record. He is the clear choice for the top seed as he has wins over his closest competitors. Lehigh's Matthew Fisk is the logical choice for No. 2 with convincing wins over Billy Ashault (Rutgers) and David Marble (Bucknell) this season. Bryan Ortenzio will rank behind them, but lost to Fisk by just a 4-3 margin two weeks ago. Ortenzio has some losses to overcome this weekend if he wants to win his first EIWA championship. The past two conference championships have seen Ortenzio lose to Marble in the first round. This season, Ortenzio has lost to Grey four times and he is anxious for another chance at him.

141: Cornell is again atop the seeding here, with true freshman Kyle Dake holding not only the top ranking in the EIWA, but the country. He is 26-2 in his first collegiate season, with 16 wins in a row to close out the regular season. Behind Dake, spots 2-4 are pretty close. The defending champion, Lehigh's Seth Ciasulli, is ranked 13th in the country and should be the two seed. Rutgers' Trevor Melde and Penn's Zack Kemmerer are also in the mix for spots in the final. Ciasulli has close wins over Melde and Kemmerer, but Kemmerer was the aggressor in their match two weeks ago until getting caught in sudden victory for a neutral pin.

149: A glance at the national rankings finds four EIWA wrestlers in the top 20 - with three in the top 10. Bucknell's Kevin LeValley is the probable top seed and comes in ranked seventh in the country. American's Kyle Borshoff is ranked ninth and Army's Matt Kyler is 10th. They will probably slot into the EIWA seeding in that order, as well. After that, things get interesting. Cesar Grajales is ranked in most national polls despite only 11 matches this season. He only has three losses, however two came late in the year to EIWA foes. Grajales was preseeded seventh and may move up a spot, but he will be a first-round opponent who the top seeds do not want to see. Grajales has been battling injuries all season, but if healthy could go on a run. He is one of the four wrestlers who earned an AQ for the conference, but will not be seeded in that position and has to wrestle up to claim what he earned. There really are seven possible finalists at this weight and should be the marquee weight throughout the tournament.

157: If the seeds hold at this weight, a final could be contested between the country's No. 1 J.P. O'Connor (Harvard) and No. 4 Steve Fittery (American) in the most start-studded final of the day. O'Connor is 26-0 and motivated to win the championship after three second place finishes the past three years. Don't count out Navy's Bryce Saddoris, the seventh-ranked wrestler in the country and last year's EIWA champ at 149. For the Quakers, similar to Grajales, Matt Dragon is laying low after an injury-plagued season. Dragon is a two-time EIWA champion (including at 157 in '07) and is looking to place at the conference championships for the fourth time.

165: Bucknell has the likely top seed, Andy Rendos, who is ranked 10th in the nation and was the runner-up in '09. Cornell's Justin Kerber (16th) and Lehigh's Brandon Hatchett (18th) are also nationally ranked and will factor in. Columbia's best chance at a finalist is Eren Civan who should seed fourth. Penn's Gabriel Burak has the most wins of anyone at this weight with 30, but he has lost three of his last four matches - all to the 2-4 seeds - and will be looking to recapture the energy he had in the middle of the season.

174: Cornell's Mack Lewnes is the favorite here, bringing a 32-0 record, a No. 1 national ranking and two EIWA championships (at 165 pounds) with him to Bethlehem. Only two wrestlers have scored as many as four points on him this year - and those were all escape points. One of those wrestlers is Penn's Scott Giffin. The two-time NCAA qualifier is the probable second seed at this weight after defeating Lehigh's Robert Hamlin on the final weekend of the season. There will be some discussion on seeding here as Bucknell's Shane Riccio is 30-8 and ranked 15th in the country, right behind Giffin at No. 14. Hamlin follows them at No. 16. Giffin and Riccio have not met this year, but last year Giffin won, 9-8, at the EIWAs.

184: Michael Cannon, the defending champion at 174 has bumped up this year and is ranked fourth in the country with a 22-1 record. His one loss was in sudden victory to the No. 2 wrestler in the country, but other than that Cannon has put together a steady diet of bonus points with 19 of 22 wins by at least major decision. Harvard's Louis Caputo should be the second seed and enters the weekend ranked sixth in the nation. He has not lost in the calendar 2010 year, not allowing an offensive point along the way. Last year's champion, David Craig of Lehigh should secure the third seed and has a serious chance to reclaim his crown. Cornell's Steve Bosak is right behind Craig in the national rankings and could make noise in his first conference championships. Penn will send out freshman Harrison Cook. In his first collegiate season, Cook has taken on some of the best in the country and is battle tested heading into the weekend. He has four wins over EIWA opponents, including two in his last three starts.

197: Cornell's returning All-America Cam Simaz will be the top seed. He was named 2009 EIWA champion after Army's Richard Starks had to medical forfeit the final due to injury. Starks is back as well as the two seed, setting up a possible meeting in the final. Penn has the third seed, freshman Micah Burak. The rookie has battled through a tough schedule to a 20-7 record. Six of his seven losses have come to top 20 opponents, including two losses to Simaz by a combined three points. Last time out, Simaz defeated the probable fourth seed, Lehigh's Joe Kennedy. The lower seeds at this weight could play a factor, as well. American's Danny Mitchell is a highly regarded talent who is just 3-3 this season but could draw the fifth seed. Rutgers senior Lamar Brown is 21-7 and could make noise from the seventh seed.

285: The big boys will go on last and should have some marquee names in the final. National No. 6 Zach Rey was runner-up in '09 and hopes to claim his first EIWA title. Two other wrestlers in the national top 10 are involved - No. 8 D.J. Russo of Rutgers and No. 9 Scott Steele of Navy. They should seed 2-3 in the bracket and the possible semifinal match there should be interesting. Cornell's Josh Arnone should slide into the fourth seed and his points will be instrumental to Cornell keeping the team title. Penn will start Tyler Blakely. The senior will be in his first EIWA Championships and will look to make noise despite an unseeded ranking.

Penn Athletics will be live at the 106th EIWA Championships all weekend with a blog and Twitter updates.