Elusive tourney title on agenda
UNIVERSITY PARK — Over the past two seasons, the Penn State wrestling team has won virtually every competition it has entered.
It has two Keystone Classic titles, two Southern Scuffle titles, two Big Ten dual-meet championships and two NCAA championships. The one glaring omission has been the 0 beside the number of Big Ten tournaments won.
The Nittany Lions continually talk about how March is usually the most wonderful time of the year. Usually.
“Tournament time is always fun. Unfortunately, Big Tens have not really gone my way or our team’s way the past two years,” said 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph, who has not won a Big Ten title as an individual. “That’s fine; it’s not like it’s NCAAs.”
Joseph has a point. Both he and Penn State have shrugged off sub-par Big Ten tournament performances the past two seasons and won NCAA titles. However, it must have been irksome for a team that openly admits it wants to win every competition it enters to watch rival Ohio State hoist the team trophy the last two years.
With the 2019 Big Ten Wrestling Championships scheduled for the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena on Saturday and Sunday, the Lions talked about reclaiming the title.
“I think about the team race. We want to score team points and we want to win the team race just like everyone else,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. He then listed the squads that his team would be battling for conference supremacy.
“In a tournament like this, it’s Ohio State and Iowa and Michigan and Nebraska. We’re at Minnesota, so they’ve got some great wrestlers. Not to count anyone out, but those are some of the higher ranked teams.”
Because so much talent is packed into a relatively small field, teams that aren’t at or near 100 percent are at a disadvantage. Sanderson said his Nittany Lions are as close to 100 percent as they can be expected to be in March.
“There’s always nicks and bruises. Rarely do you ever go into a tournament 100 percent healthy. If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” he said.
“Last year we had Nolf on one leg and the year before that Suriano had a broken ankle. We’re in a lot better shape this year than we have (been) the past two years.”
Penn State’s starters will include: 125, Devin Schnupp; 133, Roman Bravo-Young; 141, Nick Lee; 149, Brady Berge; 157, Jason Nolf; 165, Joseph; 174, Mark Hall; 184, Shakur Rasheed; 197, Bo Nickal; 285, Anthony Cassar.
Sanderson said freshman 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young would probably wrestle with his knee taped and senior 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed would wrestle with a brace on one of his knees. But, he said, both are ready to compete.
Penn State was accorded No. 1 pre-seeds at four weights (157, 165, 174, 197) and No. 2s at three others (141, 184, 285), which makes it a prohibitive favorite. Still, as the past two years have shown, when you have a high concentration of talent, anything can happen.
“Because there are so many good matches, every match is going to be good,” Lee said. “That’s kind of what I look forward to is the idea that every match is going to push me to be at my best.”
Rasheed missed five conference duals due to injury. He seemed unfazed that he won’t have the benefit of experience against some of the Big Ten’s better wrestlers at his weight.
When asked if he was eager to see how he measured up against those other talented wrestlers, he stared his inquisitor right in the eye and said, “I’m excited to see how they measure up against me.”
That’s the kind of quiet confidence that seems to be simmering just below the surface of all the Nittany Lions.
Nickal said that the goal is to win the tournament every year, and he thinks the Nittany Lions will reclaim the title in Minneapolis.
“We want to win every, single tournament that we compete in. I think when it comes down to it, when the spotlight’s on, the bigger the match, the better that we’re going to wrestle,” he said.
“We’re going to go out there definitely expecting the team to put a good performance out and win the team title this year.”
The Big Ten weekend
What: 2019 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Williams Arena, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Session 1: 11 a.m. Saturday: Round of 16, quarterfinals, first-round consolations.
Session 2: 7 p.m. Saturday, semifinals, second- and third-round consolations.
Session 3: 1 p.m. Sunday, consolation semifinals, seventh- , ninth-place bouts.
Session 4: 4 p.m. Sunday, championship finals, third- and fifth-place bouts.
What’s at Stake: Automatic qualifiers to NCAA Championships at each weight — 125 (9), 133 (8), 141 (9), 149 (6), 157 (9), 165 (9), 174 (8), 184 (8), 197 (5), 285 (7).
On the Air: Radio – Penn State Sports Network; Streaming – Lionvision at gopsusports.com; Live Web Video – BTN+ and BTN2go.