February 27, 2014 by Kevin Rossi
The Drexel wrestling team finished up its regular season, dropping duals to both Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania over the weekend. However, there was a silver lining, as the program honored five seniors on Saturday’s Senior Night. The Dragons finished the regular season with a 7-15 team record overall and a 1-6 record in their first season in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
Drexel began their weekend on the road on Friday, visiting the Scarlet Knights. Head coach Matt Azevedo knew that on paper the Dragons were outmatched by their new conference foes and would need a few upsets if they wanted to head back to Philadelphia with the win.
His caution turned out to be justified, as his mat men dropped the 33-6 team decision. The two Dragons to pick up decisions were none other than seniors Austin Sommer and Brandon Palik. Although Rutgers proved to be the tough opponent that Azevedo and the Dragons had expected, they can take solace in the fact that they lost five of the matches by only four points or fewer; momentum could have been shifted with just one takedown in any of those matches. It goes down as a loss on the schedule, but not all of the news from New Brunswick, N.J., was negative.
The Dragons returned home to the Daskalakis Athletic Center on Saturday to take on Battle of 33rd Street rival Penn in the first-ever fight for the Abner’s Cheesesteak Trophy. In the end, the cheesesteak proved too greasy for Drexel to grasp, and the Quakers took the trophy and bragging rights back across the street after earning the 20-10 decision.
“We thought we could win that match, and I think anybody who watched the dual meet saw that we could have won that match,” Azevedo said. “I kind of looked at it that we were one takedown away from tying or winning the match.”
He continued, “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but obviously I’m proud of their effort.”
Saturday was Senior Night at Drexel with Azevedo and the wrestling program honoring the program’s five seniors. The starting trio of Kevin Matyas, Austin Sommer and Brandon Palik, as well as Shane Fenningham and Steve Winfield, came out to center mat and were greeted by Azevedo and Deputy Director of Athletics Nick Gannon, who presented wrestlers and their families with individualized commemorative portraits.
When the action on the mat switched over to wrestling, it was clear that Penn would be a challenging opponent. The Dragons would need some wins from unexpected weight classes if they wanted to cap off the regular season on a victorious note.
Promising freshman Kevin Devoy got the Dragons on the board with a major decision at 133 pounds, and junior Noel Blanco got the job done at 149 pounds. Penn flexed their muscles at the middleweights, though, reeling off wins at the next four weight classes. Senior Brandon Palik, ranked No. 17 in the country at 197 pounds heading into the match, was the only other Dragon to pull off a win.
Again, it was a similar story against Penn as it was at Rutgers. Six of the matches that Drexel dropped were decided by three points or fewer; freshman Alex DeCiantis took the No. 11 ranked 184-pounder down to the wire, and freshman heavyweight Joe Giorgio went to overtime with his opponent. A takedown here or an escape there, and the Dragons could have been right back in the match.
“The difference was that they scored in the third period more than we did,” Azevedo said. “Basically all of the one-point matches we lost, they got a third-period takedown and we didn’t. That’s the difference.”
Even the loss could not take away from the emotions of the evening. It would be the last time that Matyas, Palik and Sommer would wrestle in front of the home crowd before they head into their final opportunity to reach nationals.
“It was fun. There was a lot of emotion, and I really wanted to win,” Matyas said. “You always want to go out on top, but it’s not over yet. We still have EIWAs in a few weeks, and I have a lot of opportunities there.”
“I accepted that this wouldn’t be my last match. I accepted it a couple of weeks ago that this day was going to come, and it is what it is,” Palik said. “Just take it as another match.”
With the regular season now behind them, the Dragons’ focus turns to the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships March 8-9 at the Palestra, where spots in the NCAA Tournament will be on the line. Drexel’s hopefuls know that these upcoming matches are what their whole season, all of the hard work and dedication, comes down to. For the special group of seniors, EIWAs means so much more. This is the last go-around. Each time they hit the mat in two weeks, they are wrestling to make sure it’s not their last.