Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.
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Friday, November 12, 2004
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Wrestling Opens Saturday at King’s
Loesch Nationally Ranked at 197

The reason for the Muhlenberg wrestling team’s optimism about the upcoming season isn’t too deep.

Well, actually it is.

The Mules, who open up Saturday at the King’s College Monarch Invitational Tournament, have unprecedented depth on their roster and strong competition for most spots.

“We have a lot of young guys with talent pushing the older guys,” said senior co-captain Frank Pepe. “It pushes everyone to work a little harder with people grinding at their tails.”

Muhlenberg, which went 7-13 and finished fifth at the Centennial Conference Championships last year, is thin at the lower weights but has teammates battling for starting positions at every weight from 141 up.

The team’s strength could be at the upper weights. At 197, sophomore Matt Loesch returns after an outstanding rookie season in which he went 26-4, won three tournament titles and qualified for the NCAA Championships. Loesch is ranked eighth at his class in the Brute-Adidas National Wrestling Coaches Association preseason poll.

The Mules have two promising freshmen at heavyweight, while at 184 the lineup is bolstered by the return of sophomore John Hesse, a state placewinner in high school who competed only twice last year.

Sophomore Michael Tenenhaus, who won 10 bouts and placed fourth at the CC Championships as a freshman, is the lone Mule at 125 or 133.

At 141, senior co-captain Jeremy Hart, 16-14 a year ago, is engaged in fierce competition with a freshman to retain his spot.

Junior 149-pounder Dale Mills is the team’s other returning national qualifier. He was 26-10 with 10 pins last year and leads all active wrestlers in career wins (54), major decisions (10) and pins (17).

Pepe, junior Chris Gibson and sophomore Jim Heitzenrater are among the returning wrestlers who will attempt to fill out the middle weights.

“We’re very optimistic as a team,” said Pepe. “Everyone’s been working hard in the room.”

That room has also fueled the team’s high hopes. The Life Sports Center addition constructed over the summer enabled Muhlenberg to return to the wrestling room it occupied until 1999, when it was converted to a weight facility.

The “new” room gives the Mules a full-size mat, which translates into more productive practices and fewer worries about people running into each other. “When you see the school supporting the program like that, it puts everyone in the right direction,” noted Pepe. “Hopefully it will have a snowball effect, and the team will only get better as the years go on.”

As for this year, the many newcomers to the team will get their first taste of collegiate competition this weekend at a competitive tournament that features a record 15 teams. Muhlenberg has finished ninth at King’s each of the last two years.

“We’ll use this tournament as a barometer to see where we are compared to teams like Ursinus, King’s and Messiah,” said Pepe. “Then when we meet those teams later in dual meets, we’ll see how much progress we made.”

The top seven runners from both Muhlenberg cross country teams will travel to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., for Saturday’s NCAA Mideast Regional meet.

The teams left early Friday morning for the long bus ride to western Pennsylvania. Unlike previous regional meets, which have been at sites NCAA Cross
Country such as Dickinson, Lehigh, Salisbury and DeSales, this one will be on a course that is unfamiliar to the Mules. They planned to arrive early enough so they could go over the course.

“The only knowledge we have of the course, up to this point, has come from maps we found online,” said sophomore Tim Seeley. “We have also been able to gauge the difficulty of the course based upon times of previous races held there. From that information, and once we run the course the day before we feel we will be well prepared.”

Two weeks ago both the men’s and women’s teams placed fourth at the Centennial Conference championship meet at McDaniel.

Junior captain Alexander Hotz said, “The meet did not go as well as many of us were hoping. It wasn’t a poor performance, but there is definitely room for growth, and we look forward to the Mideast Regional. The regional race is the biggest race of the season and that is when we really want to peak.”

Hotz finished in 10th place in last year’s regional, matching the best finish ever by a Muhlenberg runner. He missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by one spot, but this year a similar performance would get him in. The top two teams and the next eight individuals qualify.

The Mules, currently ranked 10th in the region, will be competing against some highly ranked national teams, including No. 4 conference rival Haverford, which has won the Mideast Regional nine times since 1993. Carnegie Mellon is ranked 22nd in Division III, and Elizabethtown and Widener received votes in the national poll.

In addition to Seeley and Hotz, the men will be represented by senior captain Christopher Martin, juniors Patrick Breault and Brian McElroy and sophomores Joseph Ganser and Lex Mercado.

The women, ranked ninth in the region, will also face strong competition. Dickinson is currently first in the region and 11th in the nation. Other national top 25 teams in the region are Allegheny (18th) and Elizabethtown (25th).

National bids for the women go to the top four teams and the next five individuals. Senior Jenna Belisonzi, who finished 16th in last year’s regional and fifth at the CC meet, has a chance to become the first Mule female to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

Coming on the heels of their best finish ever at the CC Championships, the women will try to top their all-time best of eighth place (achieved in 1990) at the regional meet.

“We had a good day on a very difficult course,” sophomore Stephanie Conicella said after the conference meet, “and like the guys we want to be better and we look to the regional meet to achieve some of our biggest season goals.”

Belisonzi and Conicella will be joined in that quest by juniors Karen Mount and Christy Grandjean and freshmen Laura Clinton, Sara Gearin and Christy Goff.

After a grueling season and many, many miles of running, the Mules hope many, many miles of bus travel will end in a great meet.

Click here for the meet site.

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Last updated November 12, 2004