FAMILY ATMOSPHERE: When coach Zeke Jones took over the Penn wrestling program in 2005, he inherited a roster that included three sets of brothers—Matt and Andy Valenti, Gene and Jeff Zennetti, and Colin and Rob Hitschler. Jones has taken steps to foster a family atmosphere ever since. His efforts paid off last spring, when he signed one of the nation’s most heavily recruited high school wrestlers, Mark Rappo of Holland, Pa. Jones was helped by Mark’s older brother, Rick, one of the nation’s best 141-pounders.
A GOOD GET: Landing Mark was no sure thing. Top wrestling programs across the country were after him, and with good reason. In his last two seasons at Council Rock South High School, Rappo racked up a record of 102-1. He finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country by Amateur Wrestling News, and was an Academic All-American in both 2007 and 2008.
PENN WINS OUT: Even with offers in hand from several other great programs, however, Rappo eventually settled on Penn. “From being around the program thanks to Rick being here, I knew a lot of the guys. I knew the atmosphere.”
WHARTON HELPS, TOO: There was one other factor that put Penn over the top, says Mark, an aspiring businessman. “I’m in Wharton and, well, it’s hard to beat that,” he says.
JUST BACK FROM TURKEY: Mark was one of just eight U.S. wrestlers to attend the FILA Junior World Championships this summer in Turkey. He was a runner-up in his weight class.
A BIG SEASON FOR BROTHER: As Mark adjusts to collegiate wrestling, Rick is preparing for what he hopes will be an All-American senior season. Last year, he finished with a 21-10 record and was named first-team All Ivy. “I’m looking to get on the podium [earn All-American honors] this year,” says Rick, who chose Penn over several other outstanding colleges, including Brown, North Carolina and the University of Virginia. Rick also has his eyes on the big team prize—the Ivy League championship. “I’d really like us to win Ivies,” he says. “We came in second behind Cornell last year, but that was a very winnable match.”
AFTER GRADUATION: Rick will graduate this spring. He is planning on a career in the pharmaceutical industry, and says he’s already interviewing with several potential employers. Looking back on his college career, Rick says he’s as happy as ever with the choice he made to bypass those other offers to follow his Ivy League dream here at Penn. “Penn just always seemed to be the best place for me, both for athletics and academics.”
Originally published Oct. 2, 2008