Wrestling to Host 2014 EIWA Championships

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PHILADELPHIA – It’s every wrestler’s favorite time of the year – March. The postseason is where each grappler’s attention has been focused since the season began in October and the final steps to earn a chance to compete for a national title will be undertaken this weekend in The Palestra as Penn hosts the 110th EIWA Championships March 8-9.

One of two programs to finish sixth or better in each of the last 20 EIWA Championships, Penn will be one of 18 teams competing in the largest EIWA tournament ever contested with the addition of four teams for 2014 in Binghamton, Boston University, Drexel and Hofstra.

There are plenty of chances for new faces to shine at this year’s tournament with just three of last year’s 10 champions returning to defend their titles.

Much like the tournament itself, Penn will have a new-look lineup for 2014 as just three of the nine placewinners Penn had at last year’s tournament return and four grapplers overall will compete in their second consecutive conference championship. Joining that group of four will be two more wrestlers who have prior EIWA experience from early in their careers.

No. 11 Lorenzo Thomas leads the Quakers into this year’s tournament as the likely No. 2 seed at 184 pounds. He is 22-7 overall this season, and has posted a 10-1 record against wrestlers likely entered in this weekend’s tournament. His only loss came to No. 2 ranked and top seed at 184 Gabe Dean of Cornell, 7-5. Included in Thomas’s 10 wins against competitors this weekend is a pair of victories over likely No. 3 seed, Ophir Bernstein of Brown.

Penn’s other expected high seed is No. 19 Casey Kent. He will enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed at 165 pounds and in possession of a 16-5 overall record. He has gone 5-2 against potential opponents this weekend, with both losses to the likely top seed, Dylan Palacio of Cornell. Nine of Kent’s 16 wins this season have been shutouts, and he has allowed just 27 points in his 21 outings this season.

157-pounder Ray Bethea will be making his first career EIWA Championships appearance and is the likely No. 4 seed in the tournament. 18-7 overall this season, Bethea is 5-2 against opponents entered this weekend. Highlighting that record is a win against the top seed, Nestor Taffur of Boston University. The two split a pair of meetings a week apart early in the season, Bethea winning at the Keystone Classic, 7-4, and Taffur getting the slight edge at the Grapple at the Garden, 3-2.

Freshman Caleb Richardson is also set to make his first conference championships appearance, and he seems destined for the No. 7 seed based on preseeding. Injuries have hampered Richardson through the middle portion of the season, but he closed the campaign with three wins in a row to bring a 12-7 record to the postseason. He is 3-3 against likely entrants this weekend.

Senior Steven Graziano will be making his third EIWA Championships appearance, and he has placed in both of his previous entries. Last year, he took fifth to claim an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships. This year, Graziano has been up and down to the tune of a 10-14 record, but he won his final three matches of the season and is experienced against the field, with an 11-12 record against likely entrants in one of the more veteran groups the tournament will have to offer. Graziano’s experience and success at the conference tournament has him slated as No. 8 in the preseeds.

Also No. 8 in the preseeds is Brad Wukie at 174 pounds. Wukie competed at the EIWAs in 2011 when he was competing at 157 pounds. This year, Wukie is 10-7 overall with a 6-3 record against entrants at this year’s tournament.

Outside of Graziano, Penn’s most experienced grappler at the EIWA Championships is Andrew Lenzi. The 149-pounder has competed at two previous EIWAs, finishing seventh at 149 last season and eighth in 2011. Lenzi is 12-10 this season, and 5-5 all-time against opponents entered in the tournament.

Last year, Jeff Canfora was fourth at the EIWA Championships at 133 pounds. This year, he enters the 141-pound tournament with a 17-11 record. He is likely to be unseeded entering the tournament, but will be a tough draw for his opponent. Canfora has wrestled 11 matches against opponents likely to be entered this weekend, and he is 5-6 in those bouts.

Another Penn wrestler opponents won’t want to see lined up opposite them is Frank Mattiace. The freshman has experienced the normal freshman ups and downs to finish the regular season with a 14-13 record, but he has shown signs of true promise along the way. He has wrestled 10 matches against EIWA entries, and is just 2-9 in those matches. Digging deeper, one would see that the total point differential in Mattiace’s nine losses to EIWA entrants is 19 points with one defensive fall included in a match he was winning at the time. Six of those eight non-fall losses have come by three points or less.

Fellow true freshman Ken Bade is another wrestler who has navigated his first season as a collegiate wrestler with the expected swings. He is 7-17 this season and 4-8 against opponents in this weekend’s tournament. His matches are usually exciting to watch, as his dual meet bouts have included 27 takedowns, 10 reversals and 10 sets of nearfall between him and his opponent.