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PREVIEW: Lehigh grappling for fifth straight team title at EIWA Championships, March 4-5

Lehigh will be shooting for their fifth straight team title at the 102nd EIWA Championships this weekend---an accomplishment no team has reached since 1931-35, when the Engineers of the day pulled it off. The road to the title will not be an easy one, as both Cornell and Penn will be fielding teams of strength relatively equal to that of Lehigh..

The Big Red last won the title in 1992 under coach Jack Spates, now at Oklahoma, while the Quakers last won in 1999, completing four straight titles under former coach Roger Reina, now retired from the coaching ranks.

In the final EIWA rankings compiled two weeks ago, Lehigh had four wrestlers, Cory Cooperman, Derek Zinck,Troy Letters, and Travis Frick ranked #1 in the conference, with Matt Fisk, and Matt Cassidy ranked #2. Six Mountain Hawks in all were ranked in the Top Six.

Lehigh coach Greg Strobel was quoted as saying, "It's a three team race, with Cornell having the edge, and Penn playing the role of spoiler, but we have a decent chance, especially with the home crowd behind us."

Cornell has two wrestlers, Troy Nickerson and Jerry Rinaldi, likely to earn the top seed with Mike Mormile, Dustin Manotti, and Joe Mazzurco ranked second, plus a man ranked in the Top Six at eight weights.

Cornell coach Rob Koll said, "We can win this if the lower ranked guys on the team step it up."We know guys like Nickerson, Manotti, Mazzurco and Rinaldi are going to score lots of points, but that won't win it for us. Our goal is to win the team title and send ten wrestlers to Oklahoma City."

Penn has two competitors, Matt Valenti and Matt Dragon, likely to earn the top seed, with just one, Matt Herrington, ranked second, but like Lehigh and Cornell, has eight men ranked in the Top Six.

Penn coach Zeke Jones said, "Our guys are highly motivated, and we feel we're in better (physical) condition for tournament competition. We feel good about our chances of winning it."

Navy, led by heavyweight Tanner Garrett, has strength across all weight classes, and is a dark horse threat for a team title should the top three leaders take turns knocking each other off.

American University, the newest member of the EIWA on the mats this weekend, has one likely #1 seed in Josh Glenn, a pinner who was EIWA Freshman of the Year a year ago. The Eagles also feature Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov (a native of Uzbekistan), a champion at 157 who will challenge Letters at 165 this year, and another pinner in Adam LoPiccolo, ranked in the Top Ten at heavyweight.

Eight defending or former champions will be in action, led by Letters (165), who will be seeking to become the ninth four-time champion in EIWA history. Harvard's Robbie Preston, who won at 125 a year ago, is at 133 this year, where his likely opponent will be Matt Valenti of Penn, who won at 125 two years ago before sitting out last season. At 141 Lehigh's Cory Cooperman will be going for his third title, while Abdurakhmanov moves up to 165 to seek his second title. Another champion moving up a weight is Joe Mazzurco of Cornell at 184. Lehigh also has two former champions who will attempt to get to the top of the winners stand in Derek Zinck (157) and Travis Frick (174).

Several runners up from last year will be looking for their first championship. They are led by twotime runner up Mike Mormile of Cornell wrestling up a weight at 133. Cornell's Dustin Manotti moves up to 157, where he could become a four-time NCAA All-American. Matt Palmer of Columbia was second a year ago at 174. At 184 Josh Glenn of American was second, while Rudy Medini of Rutgers, who took last season off, will both vie for a title. Jerry Rinaldi of Cornell (197) and Tanner Garrett of Navy (285) will both gun for their first title.

In addition to the ten individual championships and the team title, 44 invitations to the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City are on the line. The top three place winners get automatic bids. Coaches will decide at a meeting prior to the tournament how to allocate the other 14 bids. They could make all fourth place winners automatic, with four wild cards to be named from fifth and sixth place finishers, or make all 14 bids wild cards, which could come from fourth through sixth place finishers.

Here is a weight-by-weight summary of what to look for during the tournament.

125 pounds
Cornell freshman Troy Nickerson, with a record of 28-1, will be the odds-on favorite to win. After that, the picture is a bit murky. Lehigh freshman Matt Fisk might get the #2 seed after beating Penn senior Mike Silengo, who came within a point of Nickerson, 9-8 in the dual. Jeff Sato, Columbia, and Jeff Schell, Brown, will both be in the running for the #3 seed as well, with Schell having beaten Sato a week after Sato lost to Silengo 1-0. Don't overlook Army's William Simpson, Navy's Alex Usztics, or American's Matt Morkel, a fifth year senior who transferred in from Iowa. This has become a very deep weight class this year.

133 pounds
Valenti, with a record of 27-2 and unbeaten within the EIWA, has the inside track to the winner's stand. The seeding committee will have to sort out who gets the #2 seed, as Mormile upset Preston 2-1 in overtime on the last weekend of the dual meet season. Navy freshman Joe Baker has a record of 13-1, and could make a run at the leaders.

141 pounds
If you had to pick one wrestler as a sure champion, Cooperman at 19-1 would be a likely pick. Harvard's Max Meltzer (13-1) seems sure to be seeded second, while Penn freshman Cesar Grajales will vie for the #3 seed with Steve Adamcsik of Rutgers, winner of 18 straight official bouts. Columbia freshman Sal Tirico, who beat Grajales 3-2, has seen somewhat limited action, and could make a challenge.

149 pounds
Penn freshman Matt Dragon put a lock on the top seed when he drubbed Ciasulli 13-0 in the dual, despite the fact he was beaten by a point by Army's Patrick Simpson back in November. However, this weight class should be considered to be wide open, with as many as six contenders for the title. John Cox of Navy, who was injured late in the season and might not be 100%, has been running hot and cold, but has beaten Simpson. American senior Tom Kniezewski could get hot. Cornell's Keith Dickey and Columbia's Ricky Turk have been battling injuries, but could make a run at the title if healthy. At press time, Lehigh's Ciasulli was a doubtful starter due to an injury suffered in the Penn meet, with Trevor Chinn the likely replacement.

157 pounds
Manotti, who has yet to win an EIWA title despite being a three-time All-American, could get the #1 seed, even though he was beaten 13-12 by Harvard freshman Andrew Flanagan the last weekend of the dual meet season. Zinck beat Flanagan 14-4 in the dual, but lost to Manotti, so he might seeded second, although the committee which does the poll ranked Zinck first. The seeding committee will have to sort this one out. John Jarred of Navy and Gene Zannetti of Penn, who wore a Rutgers singlet last season while placing, could mount a challenge. Brown senior Mike Savino has been quietly building a solid record, and could be a high place winner.

165 pounds
Letters, as a three-time Eastern champion, will cop the #1 seed, but will be severely tested by Abdurakhmanov, who is 17-0. Both have been sidelined with injuries late in the season, so the one who is closest to 100% could end up on top of the winner's stand. Cornell sophomore Steve Anceravage will be looking to pull off an upset in the semis, and Jon Anderson of Army has had a strong season. Shawn Kitchner of Brown upset Anceravage 6-3 in the dual, and may have an impact if he gets hot.

174 pounds
Frick appears to have sewn up the #1 seed, especially since Palmer, his chief challenger, lost 3-2 to Penn's improving Matt Herrington on the last weekend of the season. Look out for Navy sophomore Matt Stolpinski, who can hold his own with anyone.

184 pounds
Glenn (27-1), who was EIWA Freshman of the Year a year ago, has stepped it up a couple of notches, and is ranked first in the nation by some polls. He leads the EIWA in pins, and some of them have come against nationally ranked competition. Mazzurco (18-1) competed at 165 two seasons ago, but has grown into the weight. He knows how to win, as evidenced by three-one point wins over three different top EIWA competitors. Harvard freshman Louis Caputo might give Mazzurco all he can handle in the semis, while Army's Luke Calvert and Penn's Dustin Wiles are capable of pulling off an upset. Jonny Kane of Navy, who beat Calvert in the dual meet, could also be a factor and Lehigh's David Helfrich has drawn attention in some polls. Don't be surprised if the coaches send six representatives from this weight class to Oklahoma City.

197 pounds
Rinaldi, who beat Paul Velekei of Penn 4-1 in the dual, will get the #1 seed. Matt Cassidy of Lehigh, another wrestler who tends to run hot and cold, beat Velekei in the dual, so he will get the #2 seed. Navy's Chris Pogue beat Cassidy and is 11-1 since moving up to 197, and he avenged his only loss, to Army's Charles Martin in the All-Academy Invitational, in the dual meet.

285 pounds
Garrett leads the nation in wins, with 39, against only two losses, and looks like a likely champion, as no EIWA wrestler has come close to beating him. Harvard's Bode Ogunwole had an overtime win over LoPiccolo, so he will get the #2 seed. Lehigh's Paul Weibel, a natural 197-pounder, will try to upset the big guys for the third year in a row.

For those who like to look ahead, the 103rd EIWA Championships are scheduled to be held at East Stroudsburg University on Mar 2-3, 2007.

Due to an addition error, the team ranking in the last issue was incorrect. Assigning theoretical placement points to the individual rankings yields 74 points for Penn. Thus, the correct team ranking should be as listed here.
1. Lehigh 81
2. Penn 74
3. Cornell 73
4. Army 47
4. Harvard 47
4. Navy 47
7. American 42
8. Brown 21
8. Columbia 21

Editor's Note: will be providing coverage from the EIWA Championships again this year.
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