Lions will put defeat to ASU in the past
By Andy Elder
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK — Mark Hall didn’t sugarcoat his feelings Tuesday when he was asked how it felt when Penn State lost to Arizona State on Nov. 22
“It sucks,” the nation’s top-ranked 174-pounder said. “It felt weird, too. It’s OK. We don’t have to worry about the (60 dual meet winning) streak anymore. We can just go out and compete hard and not be nervous about anything.”
Since that upset loss on a Friday night in Tempe, Arizona, the Nittany Lions had 11 days and a break for Thanksgiving to ruminate on the loss and try to derive some meaning from it. They weren’t shy about addressing the team’s first loss since February 2015 when they met the media in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“We have some new faces in the lineup so we can’t just rely on the history and what we’ve done the past and expect everything to go our way,” No. 1 285-pounder Anthony Cassar said. “We gotta fight for right now and do our part now and make our own history so that’s I think the biggest thing we learned. This is another match to get better and show the progress we made.”
Penn State faces a pair of Pennsylvania rivals this weekend — Friday at No. 13 Lehigh and Sunday in Rec Hall against Penn — as the No. 3 team in the latest NWCA Division I Wrestling Coaches Poll, not that they pay too much attention to such things.
“I don’t think any of us really look at it but that’s the way we expect to be,” Cassar said. “We view ourselves at the top so whether that is reflected in the rankings or not, we feel that we’re the best and we’ll show that throughout the season and during March.”
Cassar said it took the team about 24 hours to get over the loss.
“The second we got back to practice it was back to work and that’s been how it’s been going for the past few years I’ve been here,” he said. “Win or lose, we get back to work and we have a positive attitude so that’s something I really enjoy about this team.”
Coach Cael Sanderson blamed himself for the loss, saying he didn’t have his team ready. None of the three mentioned the fact that the Nittany Lions were missing two starters, 157-pounder Brady Berge and 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed, and probably will be again this weekend. Regardless of the circumstances, Sanderson said the focus is ahead, not back.
“Ultimately, the job is to get the best group ready for the nationals, but we also want to win every position, we want to win every tie-up, every scramble … every match, obviously,” he said. “I mean that’s not to say that everything isn’t important but we also want to make sure we’re looking at the big picture and get ready for March.”
Both the Nittany Lions and the Mountain Hawks, who have been battling on the mats since 1911, will have plenty of ranked wrestlers. The marquee matchup will come at 174 where Hall will meet second-ranked Jordan Kutler for the third year in a row. Hall owns 7-2 and 3-2 wins in the previous two meetings.
“He’s kind of frustrating. He’s really good defensively and so it’s like fire and ice,” Hall said. “I think I have to get to my attacks and finish quick.”
Sanderson got a stark reminder of the importance of the rivalry in his very first match as coach of Penn State.
“I know we got beat,” he said of the 23-14 setback on Nov. 13, 2009. “They’re gonna have a great team, they always do. And I’m sure they’re gonna be ready to go. Coach (Pat) Santoro is definitely one of the best; I have a lot of respect for him and the program. I think it’s a great rivalry. it’s important to the people in Pennsylvania. Any time Pa. schools go head to head, it’s gonna be exciting.”
Following Sunday’s dual with Penn, the Nittany Lions won’t compete again in a dual meet until Illinois comes to town on Jan. 10 for the Big Ten opener.
Sanderson said that yawning gap in the schedule was intentional, to give those Nittany Lions who have Olympic aspirations time to train for and compete Dec. 20-22 in the freestyle Senior Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas. The top five finishers at each weight qualify for the Olympic Trials on April 4-5 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We know we have a month before we compete again, around a month. It’s a great opportunity to train. Most of our guys have plans. There’s a good chance that we’ll take guys to an open tournament that aren’t going to the US Open,” Sanderson said.
“We have some pretty good guys that are potentially redshirting this year so we want them to compete and we want them to compete in the best tournament they can find, and that’s the (Southern) Scuffle, so there’s a good chance we’ll have some faces down there.”
Plotting a path
Hall has said since the preseason that he plans to try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic freestyle team. He said Tuesday he hasn’t decided yet at weight that will happen or through which tournament or tournaments.
It doesn’t sound like going to Senior Nationals is logistically possible for him.
“I have some finals I have to make sure I’m here for. I got the lucky draw and I have finals at the end of the week. Not a lot of people have those but I got some on Thursday (Dec. 19) of that week that I had to be here for,” he said.
“I’m not too worried about the Olympic Trials quite yet. I got a pretty good career at this point that I want to finish off strong. Whether qualifying for the Olympics at that tournament is in the cards or not, it’s not really that big of a deal to me.”
Hall said that he could earn an automatic berth to the Trials by winning another NCAA championship or by winning to the Last Chance Qualifier in late March in Millersville.