Wrestling To Challenge No. 6 Cornell, Columbia

PHILADELPHIA - With record snowstorms possibly resulting in Penn's wrestlers training in a similar fashion to Philly icon Rock Balboa in Rocky IV, the Quakers are slated to take on their biggest challenge of the 2009-10 season this weekend as they host No. 6 Cornell at The Palestra on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Red and Blue take to the mat again on Sunday for a Valentine's Day date with Columbia also at 1 p.m.

The Red and Blue are hoping to snap a seven-match skid against the Big Red in the 99th meeting between the two programs. In the all-time series, Cornell holds a 76-21-1 advantage. Last year, Cornell clinched the Ivy championship with a 24-9 win in Ithaca. In 2008, Penn held a 15-12 lead with two bouts to go, but the Big Red pulled off an upset at 125 as Mike Rodriguez defeated No. 8 Rollie Peterkin, 14-4, to take the lead. A win by No. 2 Mike Grey over Bryan Ortenzio at 133 (more on these two later) sealed the 19-15 win for Cornell.

The Quakers head into the biggest dual of the season so far with tremendous momentum behind them following two of the biggest wins in recent memory score-wise. Last weekend, the Red and Blue opened Ivy competition with 35-6 and 41-11 wins at Brown and Harvard, respectively.

It is perhaps only fitting that the four Penn wrestlers riding the hottest streaks may hold the key to Penn's overall success against Cornell on Saturday. Mark Rappo, Bryan Ortenzio, Gabriel Burak and Scott Giffin have all carried Penn throughout the season as the Quakers battled injuries and against the Big Red have a chance to help Penn pull off the upset.

Let's take a look at the storylines surrounding these four wrestlers and their probable matches on Saturday...

Mark Rappo will line up opposite three-time All-America and 2009 NCAA champion Troy Nickerson at 125 pounds. Nickerson's resume stands for itself, but injuries have limited him to just nine matches this season. He is 8-1 in those bouts with the only loss a default in the finals of the Southern Scuffle. Since then, he is 4-0 with three decisions and a fall. Rappo enters the match with a 13-7 record in his first season as a starter. He has won his last four bouts, including the most recent three by major decision. One of those majors came against Hofstra's Jamie Franco, 12-4. Franco is a common opponent for Rappo and Nickerson, with Nickerson defeating Franco, 6-0, last weekend. Rappo has been gaining steam as the season progresses, but this is a true test of how far he has come in his first campaign in the dual lineup. Giving the defending national champion fits to start out the dual could go a long way to building confidence for the rest of the Red and Blue.

Confidence will be important at 133 pounds for Ortenzio. He will be wrestling No. 11 Mike Grey for the sixth time as a collegian. Three of those matches have come already this season - all decisions in favor of Grey. The closest score came in the final of the Binghamton Open where Grey pulled out a 3-2 decision. The pair met twice at the Southern Scuffle - 8-4 and 8-2 wins for Grey. Since that loss to Grey in the fourth-place match at the Scuffle, Ortenzio is 7-1 including a pair of falls in a total of 1:29 last weekend. His 25 wins already this season are a new career high. Grey has bounced back after a loss to No. 10 Nick Fanthorpe of Iowa State with 33 combined points over his last two bouts. Ortenzio will have little trouble getting up for this match as he looks to get over the hump and fully announce his presence on the national scene.

No. 18 Gabriel Burak is one of two ranked Penn wrestlers slated to square off against an opponent who is also ranked. He will take on No. 16 Justin Kerber at 165 pounds in another pivotal bout for Penn. These two have never met collegiately, partly because Kerber has wrestled all over the weightclass scale. This will be Kerber's third dual against Penn - at his third different weight. In '08 he defeated Thomas Shovlin at 197 pounds, 3-2. Last season, he downed Colin Hitschler at 184 pounds, 8-5. Kerber's 12-8 record this season is deceiving as his eight losses have come to ranked wrestlers - including five of the top six at 165 and the second-ranked wrestler at 157. Kerber is a tough, grind it out grappler, but then so is Burak. He is looking for his 30th win of the season and to add to his team-high 10 pins. Of all the bouts to be contested on Saturday, this may be the closest to a "pick-em" on the card - and a true swing match in the middle of the dual.

He may not have the most wins on the team, but there is no question that No. 17 Scott Giffin is the Penn wrestler most on fire at the moment. The junior tri-captain is 17-3, with his three losses coming to wrestlers in the top 20 by a combined seven points. Outside of those three close defeats, Giffin has outscored his opponents 133-30 in his 13 bouts not won via fall. Since a 5-3 loss in sudden victory to No. 3 Christopher Henrich of Virginia, Giffin is 5-0 with three pins and a tech fall. However, if Giffin is the hottest wrestler on Penn's team, then Cornell is lining up the unquestioned hottest grappler in the country at the moment in No. 1 Mack Lewnes. He is an undefeated 28-0 and has not allowed an offensive point to be scored on him this season. Like Giffin, Lewnes won both his bouts via fall last weekend, giving him 11 on the season. No question that Giffin has been close to securing a signature win over the top guys in the country this season, but Lewnes is the best and Giffin will need to put it all together to take down perhaps the best in the country at any weight.

Another bout to keep an eye on comes at 197 pounds. If the dual starts at 125 and Penn pulls an upset or two early, then the penultimate bout between Micah Burak and No. 5 Cam Simaz takes on even more meaning than a rematch from earlier this season. The two met previously at the Binghamton Open with Simaz squeezing out a 1-0 decision in the final. Burak seems to be teetering on the edge of the top 20 and can vault back in with a big win this weekend.

Penn vs. No. 6 Cornell Probable Matchups
125 - Mark Rappo, 13-7 (Penn) vs. No. 2 Troy Nickerson, 8-1 (Cornell)
133 - Bryan Ortenzio, 25-7 (Penn) vs. No. 11 Mike Grey, 28-6 (Cornell)
141 - Zack Kemmerer, 24-8 (Penn) vs. No. 1 Kyle Dake, 24-2 (Cornell)
149 - No. 9 Cesar Grajales, 8-1 (Penn) or Troy Hernandez, 9-11 (Penn) vs. Corey Manson, 20-13 (Cornell)
157 - No. 15 Matt Dragon, 4-2 (Penn) vs. Derek Schreiner, 8-9 (Cornell)
165 - No. 18 Gabriel Burak, 29-6 (Penn) vs. No. 16 Justin Kerber, 12-8 (Cornell)
174 - No. 17 Scott Giffin, 17-3 (Penn) vs. No. 1 Mack Lewnes, 28-0 (Cornell)
184 - Cory Beaver, 7-12 (Penn) or Harrison Cook, 7-14 (Penn) vs. No. 17 Steve Bosak, 21-10 (Cornell)
197 - Micah Burak, 17-6 (Penn) vs. No. 5 Cam Simaz, 29-5 (Cornell)
285 - Tyler Blakely, 8-12 (Penn) vs. Josh Arnone, 11-6 (Cornell)

After wrestling Cornell on Saturday, Penn renews its rivalry with Columbia on Sunday. Last year, the Quakers tamed the Lions in New York City, 32-6. The Quakers picked up bonus points in five bouts, including a fall for Cesar Grajales in 6:19 over Matt Dunn at 149. The only rematch from last year's dual is slated to take place at 133 between Bryan Ortenzio and Andrew Grabfelder. Last year, Ortenzio claimed a 6-4 decision. Eren Civan is a wrestler to watch for Columbia at 165. He is 18-10 this season, but his last three defeats have come by a combined four points - including a one-point loss to No. 10 Andy Rendos of Bucknell and a 6-4 loss in sudden victory to Cornell's Kerber. Kyle Gilchrist has the most wins for Columbia, with a 21-8 record at 125 pounds.

Before the match on Sunday, Penn will honor the three graduating seniors from the Class of 2010 - Tyler Blakely, Matt Dragon and Cesar Grajales.

Tyler Blakely has won 29 matches over his Penn career, including eight this season as he took over the starting role at heavyweight for the Quakers. Last season, he went 11-6 - including a 4-0 mark in dual matches. He finished in fourth place at the 2008 Keystone Classic and second at the 2007 Shorty Hitchcock. He enters the weekend with a 2-0 record in Ivy matches, including a fall in 0:47 last weekend at Harvard. Matt Dragon is a two-time EIWA Champion for the Red and Blue, winning the title at 149 lbs. in 2006 and 157 lbs. in 2007. He has qualified for three NCAA Championships, including a Round of 12 appearance in 2007. Dragon has claimed two Keystone Classic titles in his career to go with a win at the 2008 East Stroudsburg Open. His career record is 85-27 despite missing pretty much two season with injury. Cesar Grajales currently ranks seventh all-time in wins at Penn with 102. He became just the seventh Quaker to earn his 100th career win with a 13-3 major decision at Hofstra Jan. 31. In 2008, Grajales won the EIWA championship at 149 pounds, earning Outstanding Wrestler honors in the process. He has appeared in the NCAA Championships three times and has been named to the All-Ivy team three times, with a first-team selection in 2009. He won Keystone Classic championships in 2006 and 2008 and has twice reached 30 wins in a season. His 32 wins in 2007-08 tie him for 10th-most in a season by a Penn grappler.

Penn vs. Cornell Probable Matchups (Records entering the weekend)
125 - Mark Rappo, 13-7 (Penn) vs. Kyle Gilchrist, 21-8 (Columbia)
133 - Bryan Ortenzio, 25-7 (Penn) vs. Andrew Grabfelder, 9-12 (Columbia)
141 - Zack Kemmerer, 24-8 (Penn) vs. Ryan Doyle, 1-10 (Columbia)
149 - No. 9 Cesar Grajales, 8-1 (Penn) vs. Steve Santos, 15-10 (Columbia)
157 - No. 15 Matt Dragon, 4-2 (Penn) vs. Matt Dunn, 12-15 (Columbia)
165 - No. 18 Gabriel Burak, 29-6 (Penn) vs. Eren Civan, 18-10 (Columbia)
174 - No. 17 Scott Giffin, 17-3 (Penn) vs. Stephen West, 12-13 (Columbia)
184 - Cory Beaver, 7-12 (Penn) or Harrison Cook, 7-14 (Penn) vs. Cary Aldrich, 7-14 (Columbia)
197 - Micah Burak, 17-6 (Penn) vs. Lou Miller, 11-6 (Columbia)
285 - Tyler Blakely, 8-12 (Penn) vs. Kevin Lester, 15-9 (Columbia)