This week its a peek at an Ivy League power and a SoCon bone or two to chew on.
PENN READY TO PULL A BEN FRANKLIN AND LIGHT UP THE IVY LEAGUE
Its not that they’re too modest to say it, but this years edition of the Penn Quakers is quite aware that the rest of the Ivies know their status has changed. When you advance from being one of the hunters to one of the hunted it gets NOTICED. This is the second iteration, year six of the Roger Reina regime. The immediately previous five and the 17 back in the day went fairly well also. This campaign, however, has all the earmarks of a very special season. There’s depth produced by multiple Top 25 recruiting classes. There’s the return of multiple stars from both injuries and the Ivy League shut down last year. A very big cog in this constant grind and growth is the work the Quakers are putting in in their room and through the Pennsylvania RTC. Quaker alum two time AA and 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist Brandon Slay doubles as the RTCs Executive Director and Head Coach. This unique positional blend is the ONLY double that anyone would ever possibly want from Coach Slay, BTW.(1) The amount of talent tutoring Quakers both new and experienced is staggering. There’s Associate Head Coach Bryan Pearsall, a former Penn State grappler with successful stints at Rutgers and Army West Point. New Assistant Coach B.J. Futrell (@backtotheFutrell) is an old friend come home as the former Fightin Ilini two time AA was also a USA international star for the Penn RTC before retiring from active competition. (Covered in this columns Season 2, SUPRISING GOODBYES AND UNEXPECTED HELLOS, 5/24/19) Not enough star power for you, Philly sports fan? Fine. We’ll see you three great coaches/recruiters and raise you two World Champion level competitors. As in Penn St four time AA, three time finalist and National Champ Mark Hall. Hall is an 86KG team USA star in the making and a former Cadet and two time junior World Champ. AND some guy named Burroughs. Supposed to hit town full time right after the World Team Trials in Lincoln on Septembers second weekend**. Not Edgar Rice, though this B has a few best sellers to his credit. Here comes Mr. Jordan Burroughs, THE most internationally decorated American wrestler in modern history. The 9X National Team member and 4X World Champ, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist has moved up to 79kg. He’s also stepping away from his 15 year stint with the Nebraska program to be closer to he and wife Lauren’s homes.(2) That fresh new look will give JB the opportunity to compete through the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The Penn wrestlers are probably a wee bit excited about this development. Also repping the RTC, former Minnesota AA Ethan Lizak and Joey McKenna, who made the podium at Nationals three times, once for Stanford and twice for Ohio State. What, STILL need more? You Philly people are TOUGH. Got it for you. Here’s another amazing athlete with a staggering Philadelphia story being written. 86kg star Richard Perry was a late blooming hero for team USA who had just started to gain international traction for America. Then, a horrific training accident threatened his very life. The details will be spared as you may be eating. Suffice to say he was left comatose for a month with bone fragments in his brain and predictions of permanent paralysis. Two years later Perry is back, working and training towards normalcy, imparting amazing wisdom and perspective, and being “that guy” who just by being there lifts up everyone.(2) Now match all that coaching expertise and faith based life experience with the drive possessed by a Division one wrestler, mix in a Covid-19 stolen season, and you have a recipe for serious success. The seven seniors are an interesting mix of experienced vets, single year starters and solid fill in fellows. It has been multiple years/seasons since Grant Aronoff (SHOUT OUT, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, St. Thomas Aquinas) was healthy and at his optimum weight of 141lbs. Check and double check. 184lb Neil Antrassian followed brother Carl to Penn and will be aiming at a Top five conference finish and an NCAA berth. If you’re looking to the Quakers strength, though, look at their junior and sophomore class. Penn is ready for a two year run to greatness with this crew. Both alphabetically and alpha male list wise look no farther than junior 149lb Anthony Artalona (SHOUT OUT, Tampa, FL, Prep). Artalona stepped into one of the traditionally toughest weight classes in college wrestling and promptly led the team in wins with 28. He finished one match away from All American status after winning the brutal E.I.W.A. tournament as a freshman. Moving up a weight class and giving up his best spot for the teams benefit Artalona, then a sophomore and one of three captains, had a very good second campaign end abruptly due to injury. Between that and Covid it’s been a while. The two Sunshine State boyz, Aronoff and Artalona, should both be up front this year in more than the class selection lines. 157lb Doug Zapf is another team season wins leader back for two more go rounds. The 2020 campaign saw Zapf go 30-7 at 141 and he carries two top six EIWA finishes and two top four Keystone Classic results into year three as a Quaker. On the opposite ends of Penns lineup you’ll probably find junior lightweight star Carmen Ferrante and big Ben Goldin (SHOUT OUT, Orlando, FL, Lake Highland Prep). They have 70 wins, a half dozen tournament top eight finishes, and about 100 plus lbs between them. One more Quaker to be aware of, 133lb Michael Colaiocco. As a 125lb freshman he placed at three tournaments, earning third at the Midlands, the oldest and traditionally one of the toughest in season events. As to their schedule:
°11/14 @ Journeyman Collegiate Classic
°11/21 Keystone Classic
° 12/3 Penn State
°12/29-30 @ The Midlands
°1/7/22 @ Pitt
°1/9 Oregon State
°1/14-15 @ The Virginia Duals
°1/28 @ Brown
°1/29 @ Harvard
°2/6 Long Island University/Cornell
°2/12 @ Princeton
°2/20 @ American
Two tournaments start Penns season including their own Keystone Classic. It’s a tough field with SoCon top dogs Campbell and App State, conference foes Harvard, Franklin & Marshall, column fav Sacred Heart and, of course, Drexel. Its a Philly thing, y’all. George Mason and Rider, two more teams followed closely in this column, will bring some MAC muscle and hustle to the event. Between the single dual with Penn State and the two day Midlands tourney the Quakers will see all the powers from the Big 10 except defending National Champion Iowa. Very interesting and equally challenging, the Quakers have three nasty tough weekend dual combos set up. Penn will face five squads that will finish Top 20, most Top 15. ACC power Pitt and Oregon States Beavers are an ugly back to back combo even with a day between. Equally challenging, a two match in three days donnybrook early February with four time EIWA champs Lehigh on a Friday followed by perennial National power Cornell two days later. Finally, its a cross the river rumble with Chris Ayres Princeton Tigers, then the back home throwdown showdown with Drexel. It’s for practice room and city bragging rights AND of course, The Cheeseteak Trophy. Thats the preseason peek at Penn, folks, and don’t take your eyes off them. You’d miss all #TheMovement, and a lot of the fun.
SO COOL, SO HOT, SOCON
Great preseason recognition has been tough to come by for this columns favorite conference. Checking out this years first set of Intermat rankings, though, and there’s a robust presence from Chattanooga to Buies Creek to Boone and from Charleston to Lexington, VA. NICE. 20 Socon wrestlers are standing up and looking to stand out in the Preseason Top 33 per class and the conference has a guy, or two or more, ranked at every weight. Three Socon seniors made the grade at 125; App States Codi Russell, Fabian Gutierrez of UTC, and Campbells Corbin Meink. App State Sophomore Sean Carter, fresh off his Freshman SoCon title winning season, is at 133. The Mountaineers 141lb rep Anthony Brito is up next. He’s also a defending SoCon champ. At 149 the Mountaineers Jonathan Millner is after his second AA award after finishing eigth last year at this weight. Campbells Josh Heil checks in here as well. They are both seniors. At 157 its the fifth of five straight Mountaineers to make the pre-season grade as Cody Bond shows up. THE story of the early SoCon ranks, though, is no doubt being written at 165. Four, count ’em, FOUR SoCon wrestlers are ranked preseason Top 33. Folks, that hasn’t happened in the semi-short but enthusiastic history of this column, and it is suh-WEET to see. App State sophomore Will Formato, UTC junior Drew Nicholson, and Gardner-Webb sophomore Rodrick Moseley are back to back to back in the rankings. They’re followed closely by The Citadels junior standout Dazjon “Cheese” Casto. These four will have 3 years of history against each other this season with at least one more to go. Campbell junior Austin Murphy was a match away from AA status last year at 174, and he’s joined at that weight by App States Thomas Flitz. At 184 you’ll find Campbells Caleb Hopkins (one of 3 Hopkins brothers on the Camels roster all the way from Alaska) and UTC junior Matthew Waddell. Campbell senior Chris Kober and UTC freshman Logan Andrew along with VMI standout freshman Tyler Mousaw will continue their high level wars at 197. Yes, Andrew and Mousaw are considered freshmen because…Covid. Last year was a mulligan, eligibility-wise. Finally, for the big boyz its returning SoCon champ Mike McAleavey of the Citadel. Tip of the hat to all the athletes, coaches, ADs, and support staff conference wide. And folks, it’s just going to get better from here.
See you sometime soon!
(1) Slays amazing career took full flight as a three time state champion for the Amarillo, TX Tascosa Rebels before a two time NCAA finalist run at Penn. His Gold Medal glory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics is the focus of the five part series “Slaying Saitiev” by Ryan Warner, host of the “Wrestling Changed My Life” Podcast.
(2) An interesting note: both the Burroughs and the Perrys (Richard and wife/writer/podcaster Gina, catch her fine work @MostlyGina) are expecting their fourth child. Sounds like a blue chip recruiting edge. For the full and amazing Richard Perry story catch Kevin McGuigans** Philly Wrestling Podcast, Episode 16.
** The resourceful Mr. McGuigan checked in swiftly post drop to inform that Jordan and family are fully settled in the City of Brotherly Love already. Thank you, Kevin!