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Latrobe grad Pennesi starts senior wrestling campaign at WVU

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

While West Virginia senior wrestler Nathan Pennesi enters this season as the two-time incumbent as team captain, he is embracing even more of a leadership role in his fifth and final season as a Mountaineer.

Even if that meant dropping down a weight class for the betterment of the team.

With three of the team's top wrestlers slated to wrestle at 141 pounds this year, Pennesi and WVU assistant coach Danny Felix decided that Pennesi, a Latrobe alum, should drop down to 133 pounds.

“At first I didn't know if I wanted to go back down, but (coach Felix) said that he thought it was what's best for me,” Pennesi said.

“If he thinks it's going to be the best for me, I'm going to go with what my coach says and what he feels will be the best results for me and I trust what he decides.”

Pennesi went 22-11 last season, climbing to as high as No. 12 in the nation while finishing fourth at the Big 12 championships and advancing to his third consecutive NCAA Championships.

Yet, the 2009 PIAA runner-up is no stranger to the 133-pound weight class, where he wrestled his entire freshman season, going 24-8, as well as half of his sophomore campaign.

In fact, Pennesi now feels that with his experience at a heavier weight class, he has a physical advantage over many wrestlers at 133 pounds.

“I was able to handle 141 to the point where I wouldn't really get overpowered, but there were a lot of kids bigger than me. I was never one of the bigger kids, the 5-foot-7 133-pound senior said. “At 133, I feel like I'm usually one of the bigger framed people. … There's small occasions where I get overpowered, but I feel like I'm one of the bigger bodies for 133, so matching up with people I have an advantage there.”

Even while sitting out the early part of the season with a minor knee injury, Pennesi is trying to establish himself as more of a leader, even when he's off the mat.

“I feel like I've taken on more of a leadership role this year,” he said. “I mean I am a fifth year senior, someone who's done decently well here, so I feel this is more of my team.”

Despite going 2-10 last season in their inaugural Big 12 campaign, Pennesi and the Mountaineers are optimistic that they are better equipped to handle the tough slate of opponents this time around.

“It was a rough start to adjust to the Big 12 schedule for us,” he said. “The Big 12 features some big name schools. … I feel like we just came in more prepared this year. We knew what we were getting into.”

Individually, Pennesi said he simply tried to sharpen some of the smaller parts of his technique over the summer, hoping to build off his 1-2 record at the NCAA Championships from last season and make a run at a title in his senior year.

“I want to get to the national tournament, and I want to place,” he said. “My goal is to finish at the top. I wouldn't aim for anything lower than that, but I really just want to get in those medal rounds and leave my college career with All-American status if not a national championship.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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