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Sanderson won’t cop to underdog role

UNIVERSITY PARK –Most Penn State wrestling fans would have to admit that, based on the dual meet season, Iowa has to be considered the favorite to win the 2020 Big Ten Wrestling Championships.

The Hawkeyes finished 13-0 overall and 9-0 in conference, including a 19-17 squeaker over the Nittany Lions, Iowa’s closest dual result of the season, by far.

Add in the fact that all 10 Hawkeyes are in the top three of their weight in the tournament pre-seeds, and the list of evidence grows.

Count Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson among those who don’t buy into the Nittany Lions’ underdog status.

“It doesn’t really change for us. We’re still trying to score as many points as we can. We can’t control any other team. All we can do is get in there and score as many points as we can and, again, wrestle with that fire and if we do that, we like our chances,” he said Monday at the team’s Big Ten Championships Media Day in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.

“Our expectations are always the same, it’s just to compete with some fire and some enthusiasm, some gratitude, just the things that are most important in the long term. If we do that, we’ll obviously get our best results.

It’s the same goal always – to be the best we can be and have fun in the battle.”

Fun is a word long associated with Penn State’s unique outlook on training and competition, but it doesn’t always come from the coaches.

“Everybody’s got smiles on their faces, everybody’s excited. That’s the fun part of season. The hard hard part and the long part is over so now it’s just the time when I try to tell guys to have fun and enjoy it,” Nick Lee said.

“The pressure’s a blessing. Our team, only 10 guys get to do it and the same on all the other teams. So, it’s a very select group of people in the country that get to compete in nationals (and) the Big Ten tournament so no matter what team you’re from, if you’re there, you should be proud of that and try to have fun in the tournament. So, I think the pressure’s there but it’s a blessing, it means you’re doing something right.”

Penn State will take an interesting team to the Rutgers Athletic Center on Saturday and Sunday. Half of the 10 entrants have never competed in a Big Ten tournament. And only one, Mark Hall, has won a conference crown. The pre-seeds reflect that relative inexperience.

Penn State’s lineup will feature Brandon Meredith (14 th seed at 125), Roman Bravo-Young (2 nd at 133), Lee (1 st at 141), Jarod Verkleeren (8 th at 149), Bo Pipher (13 th at 157), Vincenzo Joseph (1 st at 165), Hall (2 nd at 174), Aaron Brooks (1 st at 184), Shakur Rasheed (6 th at 197) and Seth Nevills (7 th at 285).

Meredith, Verkleeren, Pipher, Brooks and Nevills will be making their first trip to Big Tens.

Sanderson didn’t seem too concerned with taking five first-timers into the tournament to try to repeat the title Penn State won a year ago in Minneapolis.

“It’s not really much different. You have to bring the young kids along and be patient with them. But these guys have plenty of experience of postseasons and wrestling in big tournaments,” he said.

“You don’t make things bigger than they really are. Just kind of help them keep things in perspective and, again, whether it’s the Olympics or the Big Tens or a dual meet we just want to be the best we can be.”

Lee, an acknowledged leader on the team, said he’ll impart advice to the rookies when the time is right.

“There’ll be a time to talk about that but you know I don’t want to get in their ear too much. These guys have been wrestling the whole season now; they’ve been in big tournaments before,” he said.

“(There’s) nothing like the Big Ten tournament, probably, but I don’t want them to have in their head that it’s anything other than it’s just another tournament, because it’s not. I just want them to be their best just like any other tournament. We’ll talk to them as it gets closer, if they have questions, but I think they’re ready to go.”

In addition to Lee, Joseph and Brooks, the other No. 1 seeds include: Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125) and Michael Kemerer (174), Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso (149) and Kollin Moore (197), Wisconsin’s Seth Gross (133), Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin (157) and Michigan’s Mason Parris (285).

A complete list of wrestlers and pre-seeds at each weight can be found on the B1G website at https://bigten.org/news/2020/3/2/big-ten-wrestling-pre-seeds-announced.aspx .

2020 Big Ten Wrestling Championships

When: Saturday and Sunday

Where: Rutgers Athletic Center

Times: Saturday – Session 1, 10 a.m.; Session II, 6:30 p.m. Sunday -Session III, noon; Session IV, 3:30 p.m.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: 125 (8); 133 (7); 141 (8); 149 (10); 157 (6); 165 (8); 174 (9); 184 (10); 197 (6); 285 (7).

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