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Looking into #TheMovement Happening at UPenn Wrestling

The Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania during a Penn wrestling match in 2018-19. Image courtesy of the Penn Sports Information. 

The University of Pennsylvania wrestling program is one of the best up-and-coming programs in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA).

According to the Quaker coaching staff, the main reason for their recent success is attributed to Hall of Fame coach Roger Reina and his new mantra known as #The Movement, a slogan used to describe the new era of UPenn wrestling.

Dubbed #TheMovement by coach Reina, this new era started when Reina arrived for his second stint as head coach for the Quakers, which began in the 2017-18 season. In his inaugural season back at the helm, the team had moderate success, finishing 9-8 overall and sending four wrestlers to the NCAA tournament.

However, UPenn wrestling got a shot in the arm thanks to their terrific 2018 offseason on the recruiting trail.

“In our very first year, we ended up landing the No. 12-ranked recruiting class in the country, with Carmen Ferrante,” Reina said. “This was more than just some temporary momentum; this was a movement.”

That recruiting class, the Class of 2018, was followed by three consecutive nationally-ranked recruiting classes from 2019-2021. The highest of that trio was the 2019 class, which was ranked ninth overall by The Open Mat.

And, by all indications, the Class of 2022 is off to an impressive start as well, according to Penn associate head coach Brian Pearsall. 

Next season, in 2022, every Penn wrestling recruiting class from its freshman class to the senior class has been ranked nationally. As Penn prepares to bring in arguably its strongest recruiting class in recent memory, one chock-full of recruits from powerhouse programs and “hotbed” wrestling states, expectations for 2022 are high.

The continued success of the Cornell Big Red, plus the more recent success of the Princeton Tigers, has given Ivy League institutions newfound respect within the national college wrestling landscape. In fact, both Cornell and Princeton drew whispers of a possible podium finish last year in 2021 before the Ivy League elected to cancel all winter sports.

 Now, it’s Penn’s turn to make some noise in the EIWA. amongst the fellow Ivy Leagers, and on the national stage. 

With these increasingly high expectations for Ivy grapplers, it is becoming readily apparent that teams (and individual wrestlers) can reach their goals while wearing the singlet of an Ivy League school. 

“I think the Ivy League is recognized as a place where you can get one of the premier educations in the country, and then also compete at the highest athletic level, which has been shown in the past with Brandon Slay winning a [Olympic] gold medal,” Reina said. 

Brandon Slay, the executive director and head coach of the Pennsylvania RTC (PRTC), was not only a former UPenn wrestler as a collegian but also an Olympic gold medalist for Team USA at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sidney, Australia.

Slay, too, alongside Reina, is a integral part of #TheMovement that is taking shape at  both UPenn wrestling and the PRTC. 

“For the University of Pennsylvania, I think we’re just now about four recruiting classes in for Coach Roger Reina,” Slay said of Penn’s recent upswing in momentum. “You’re just now starting to see the impact that the RTC has had on those recruiting classes.”

According to Slay, another vital component to the new era of Penn wrestling and #TheMovement is the ability to build relationships with high school recruits and resident athletes. 

“You have to build a relationship with them where they would trust you as their coach and trust you as the caretaker of their dreams,” Slay said. “Yes, we’re gonna help them achieve their wrestling dreams, but we’re also thoughtful of their life after wrestling.”

To see how successful Slay has been as a “relationship builder” at the PRTC, all you have to do is look at the roster of resident athletes that have transferred into the PRTC in recent years. The list is as impressive as it gets: Jordan Burroughs (coming soon), Mark Hall, Joey McKenna, David McFadden, Ethan Lizak, and others.

Additionally, PRTC has Richard Perry, who has a very distinguished Senior level resume in his own right. Plus, concerning recent coaching hires, Penn added B.J. Futrell as an assistant coach, which only makes Penn wrestling and the PRTC all the more enticing. 

It’s safe to say that with Roger Reina and Brandon Slay leading the charge at UPenn, the wrestling program and the PRTC are in good hands.

#TheMovement is clearly in full swing at Penn and its RTC, and one has to assume it’s only a matter of time until Penn can rise to a Top-10  program in the country.

However, what is arguably more exciting than seeing Penn as a Top-10 or Top-15 team, though, is imagining the battles the Quakers will have with fellow Ivy rivals like Cornell, Princeton, and Columbia, and others. 

Cornell has quietly put together a young, but elite staff over at Cornell/Spartan Combat, adding Nick Gwiazdowski and Frank Perrelli to the Cornell RTC, and adding Donnie Vinson and Kellen Russell as assistants under newly-minted Cornell head coach Mike Grey.

As for the Columbia Lions, they, too, have made some waves of their own on both the recruiting circuit and in regards to their regional training center, the NYC Regional Training Center (NYCRTC), which recently joined forces with the New Jersey Regional Training Center (NJRTC). 

Any way you look at it, it’s undoubtedly a great time to be a Penn wrestling fan, a PRTC wrestling fan, and an Ivy League/EIWA wrestling fan in general. 

And, in just a few short months, college wrestling fans will get to see #TheMovement in action.

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