- By Julie Brown
- March 06, 2011 08:08 AM
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - All things considered, Mountaineer wrestler Nathan Pennesi has had a great career at West Virginia. Currently ranked No. 13 in the country in the 133-pound weight class, he’s hoping to post a couple of wins and perhaps even claim a title at today's EWL Championships in Bloomsburg, Pa.
A goal that’s feasible, especially when you consider that he holds a 23-5 overall record this year, with his five losses coming to opponents ranked in the nation’s Top 20.
Even more impressive is the fact that Pennesi is just a redshirt freshman.
“Did I think I would sit here as a redshirt-freshman being ranked No. 13? Probably not,” he said with a laugh. “I had a goal of being an All-American but that’s a goal that usually you set above yourself. I mean, I thought I could do it but I didn’t have any evidence to prove that I was that good. I had nothing to go off of so I kind of just set my goals high this year and worked hard.”
It’s a trait that he brings with him into the Pavilion every day, and one that he learned from his father, Richard, a former WVU wrestler. With his father being a successful student-athlete alum, Pennesi began to attend summer wrestling camps at West Virginia from the young age of seven. Even at that age, the Latrobe, Pa., native knew that when the time came to apply to college, West Virginia would be at the top of the list.
“I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else,” he said. “I’ve always grown up thinking I was going to come here. It worked out with the Olympic Training Center being here, and the coaches are great for me. Danny (Felix) is a perfect coach for my size and helps me a ton. My best option was to come here.”
Pennesi was a talented wrestler out of high school, finishing his career with a 140-25 mark, only one win shy of his high school’s record for victories, which as it turns out is held by Mountaineer teammate Ryan Goodman. A two-year team captain, Pennesi was also a three-time state qualifier.
He attributes much of this success to having his father as an additional coach.
“He was my coach until I was in junior high, and he still was my coach in high school,” Pennesi explained. “He’s been at every match this year, and he even flew out to Las Vegas and out to Reno. He’s always there and tries to teach me as much as he can, and tries to give as many pointers as he can that I’ll listen to.”
It’s not as though Pennesi’s success this year should come as a major surprise. The coaching staff gave him a redshirt last year so that he could develop and improve. But he didn’t sit out and merely practice all season. He still competed at several tournaments, wrestling unattached and going 9-2 over the course of the season.
“I think that everybody who redshirts should go to as many tournaments as possible,” he detailed. “You get stale just going into practice every day; it gets boring without a goal or some competition. The tournaments allow you to judge yourself and where you’re at and what you need to improve on. It helps you see where you’re weak and where you’re strong.
“They gave me more competition, and helped me see where I was at that point. I had a few losses, but they were good experiences.”
Having spent his first season wrestling unattached and flying under the radar, Pennesi took the EWL by storm this year, winning all but one match in league competition. His only loss came to No. 15 Eric Morrill (Edinboro), who he hopes to see again this weekend.
“I’ve been focusing on what I need to change to turn that loss into a win in the finals, and what I need to do to get to the finals. He’s beaten everyone in the EWL so I don’t see him getting upset. You never know, though, and hopefully I do get another shot and the last two weeks pays off.”
Looking ahead, the NCAA Championships for wrestling take place in two weeks, starting March 17 in Philadelphia. While Pennesi understandably remains focused on this weekend’s EWL Championships, the NCAA Tournament isn’t far out of his mind.
There are a few wrestlers he hopes to see again in that meet. Besides Morrill, Pennesi has only lost to Lou Ruggirello (Hofstra), B.J. Futrell (Illinois) and Andrew Hochstrasser (Boise State), all of whom were ranked at the time.
“Hopefully I do get that far where I’m with just those guys that I’ve lost to, left,” he said. “If I do face them, let’s hope that we can turn it around.”
Not that the losses haven’t helped teach him. Although always disappointing, Pennesi holds the mindset that a loss can sometimes actually help him improve better than if he had won.
“If I win but wrestle sloppy, I can kind of pass it back because I still won,” he ended. “But when you lose, it really gives you a point to prove. It’s a little disappointing still because I want to beat someone in the top five and put myself up there. You can’t get too mad at yourself though; they’re good. It’s not a disappointing thing like I didn’t do my best. It’s more just like I want to be considered in the top 10, top five.”
That quest begins today with the EWL championships taking place at Bloomsburg University.