PHILADELPHIA - The NCAA announced the 33-wrestler fields for the 10 weightclasses to be contested at the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia next week, and Penn will send a contingent of six on the five-mile trip to the Wells Fargo Center in search of a national championship.
Mark Rappo (125), Rollie Peterkin (133), Zack Kemmerer (141), Gabriel Burak (165) and Micah Burak (197) all knew they were in the field after securing automatic bids via their finishes at the EIWA Championships last weekend in Lewisburg, Pa. Senior Scott Giffin (174) did not have one of those automatic qualifying spots in his pocket, but when his named was called knew he had earned a chance to defend his 2010 NCAA All-American honors.
For Giffin (19-10 this season), the trip to NCAAs is the fourth of his career, most by any current Penn wrestler. He became Penn's 24th NCAA All-American with a seventh-place finish at 174 pounds. He wrestled all the way back to the podium after a loss in the first round to eventual national champion Jay Borschel of Iowa, finishing with a 5-2 record last year. This year, his NCAA run will start with a match against No. 8 seed Mike Letts from Maryland. The two met earlier this season, a 6-2 win for Letts in a Nov. 27 dual.
Another senior making his last run at the national championships is Rollie Peterkin. Twice Peterkin has advanced to the Round of 12, finishing one match shy of All-American status at 125 pounds. This year, Peterkin has competed at 133 pounds and enters the tournament with a 26-5 record. The No. 12-ranked wrestler in the country according to InterMat, Peterkin earned the No. 10 seed in the tournament and will wrestle Flint Ray of Utah Valley in next Thursday's first round. Ray is 22-2 this season and was ranked No. 14 in the latest InterMat poll.
Sophomore Micah Burak is making his second trip to the NCAA Championships and will be seeded sixth at 197 pounds. The No. 9-ranked wrestler at 197 according to InterMat, Burak went 26-6 leading up to NCAAs and has been inside the Top 10 all year long. At the 2010 NCAAs, Burak went 1-2, providing valuable experience heading into this year's tournament. Up first for Burak in South Philly will be freshman Peter Capone of Ohio State. Capone is 19-15 overall this season as a true freshman.
Zack Kemmerer is tied for the EIWA lead in wins with 31 in 2010-11 at 141 pounds and the senior has earned his second NCAA Championships appearance with a national ranking of No. 13. At the NCAA Championships, he will be seeded No. 12 - his first-ever seed at the national tournament. Last year, in his first trip to the national tournament, Kemmerer went 0-2. In 2011, he will be looking for his first national tournament win when he wrestles unseeded Jon Kohler of Maryland. Kohler, ranked No. 14 by InterMat, defeated Kemmerer, 4-0, in a dual earlier this season.
Junior Mark Rappo is making his first trip to the NCAA Championships after a 27-8 season. He finished the regular season with a No. 14 ranking by InterMat and was the runner-up at the EIWA Championships. His first-round opponent will be No. 9 seed Jon Morrison from Oklahoma State. Morrison is 18-6 this season for the Cowboys.
Penn's sixth qualifier is senior Gabriel Burak at 165 pounds. A two-time NCAA qualifier, Burak went 0-2 in 2010 in Omaha. In his final season with the Red and Blue, Burak went 20-6 and took third at the EIWA Championships. He will await the winner of a pigtail match between North Carolina's Thomas Scotton and Drexel's Joe Booth. Scotton is 26-17 this season while Booth is 23-9. No doubt, the local fans will be hoping for a Penn-Drexel showdown in Philly.
Wrestling begins at the 2011 NCAA Championships at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on March 17 and continues through the national championship matches Saturday March 19 in the evening.