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Carson: PSU wrestling to kick off this weekend

Photo by Tim Weight


UNIVERSITY PARK – Coach Cael Sanderson approaches every season with stoic resolve, a workmanlike attitude and quiet confidence in the potential of his team. At Penn State Wrestling Media Day on Tuesday, the biggest name in the sport’s history was more of the same.

The Penn State wrestling team begins the season right where it left off in March, ranked No. 1 in every major poll and looking to capture its fourth consecutive national title and ninth in 10 years.

Despite the loss of two of the greatest college wrestlers of all-time in three-time national champions Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal, Sanderson feels the 2019-20 squad can keep their decade-long dominance rolling along.

“We had a lot of guys work really hard this offseason and I think that will show. As we start competing will see who made the gains,” Sanderson said. “Wrestling is all year long now and a lot of our guys are in the room all the time. Hopefully, that shows when the season starts. I think it will. We are excited to get the season going and find out where we are.”

“We’re not trying to replace them (Nolf and Nickal). You can’t really replace guys like that. We’re just trying to find guys and build them up for the next wave,” Sanderson continued. “As a coaching staff we try to be consistent in what we are doing and saying and the energy we’re bringing into the room every day, along with the vision.”

Sanderson’s vision for the program hasn’t changed since he began coaching the Nittany Lions.

“What does Penn State wrestling stand for? We want to compete. We want to be a team that wrestles freely, scores points and has a good time,” he said. “We’re not afraid to make mistakes and we’re not afraid to lose. We hate losing but we’re not afraid of it. Having that mentality, being consistent with passion and energy, if we do that, everything should fall into place.”

The starting lineup, while not set in stone, is formidable: 125: redshirt freshman Brody Teske; 133: sophomore Roman Bravo-Young; 141: junior Nick Lee; 149: sophomore Jarod Verkleeren; 157: sophomore Brady Berge; 165: senior Vincenzo Joseph; 174: senior Mark Hall; 184: senior Shakur Rasheed; 197: senior Kyle Conel; 285: junior Anthony Cassar.

“Our lineup is set except for 125 and 149. They are the two competitive weights kids are fighting for,” Sanderson said. “In an Olympic year, you’re going to see a number of different teams we put out there just to be creative and give our guys the best chance not only to be successful at the NCAA tournament but at the Olympic Trials back here (Bryce Jordan) two weeks after nationals.

Rasheed and Cassar are the gifts that keep on giving.

The duo battled injury problems early in their collegiate careers and earned extra eligibility by the NCAA. Rasheed received an additional year and Cassar two.

Cassar, a returning national champion, begins the season ranked No. 1. The Massachusetts native has a 45-3 career record.

Rasheed, ranked third, looks to bounce back from a disappointing performance at nationals after he failed to place as a second seed. Injuries were partly to blame for his lackluster results.

“It’s big having them back. They are two guys who are leaders, Cassar is extremely committed to everything he does. We saw him jump levels the last couple of years and he’s jumped to another level this year,” Sanderson said. “Shakur tore his ACL in the middle of the season. He had surgery after the nationals, so he’s bringing that back to full speed. He’s been doing a nice job coming back.”

Joseph and Hall, former national champions and three-time finalists, placed second a year ago and look to get back to the top of the podium. Both come into the season ranked first in their respective weight classes.

Joseph enters his final collegiate campaign with an 84-8 mark and two national titles under his belt. The Pittsburgh Central Catholic grad lost to freshman Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in last year’s 165-pound final. Lewis took an Olympic redshirt.

Hall won his national championship as a freshman and then suffered consecutive finals losses to Zahid Valencia of Arizona State. Valencia moved up to 184 this season making Hall the favorite to win title number two. The Nittany Lion senior is 93-5 for his career.

“Vincenzo and Mark had some tough losses, but you move forward, get better and figure it out. Hopefully, they have that consistent fire and will finish strong this season,” Sanderson said. “You don’t run away from adversity and opportunity, you embrace it, and they both have.”

Bravo-Young, ranked third in the preseason, placed fifth as a true freshman. Lee took fifth at nationals and enters the 2019-20 campaign ranked second. Berge qualified for NCAAs a year ago but failed to place. The Minnesota native owns the No. 8 ranking in the preseason by Intermat.

Teske, Verkleeren and Conel are the new starters in the lineup. Teske, a four-time Iowa state champion, will try to stabilize a weight that’s been in disarray for Sanderson the past few years.

The trouble started with Nick Suriano’s defection to Rutgers; followed by Gavin Teasdale’s flip-flop between Iowa, Penn State and back to Iowa. Devin Schnupp manned the weight the past two seasons and went 7-31.

Verkleeren was a part-time starter who now has the reins at 149. The former Cadet world champion is unranked to start the year.

Conel transferred from Kent State after taking a medical redshirt last season. The sixth-year senior placed third in the country as a junior in 2018. If Conel can return to his junior form, he will be a nice bonus in Penn State’s already deep lineup.

“He visited during the season and watched one of our matches. He decided this is where he wanted to go. He got into a one-year graduate program in business,” Sanderson said. “He’s excited to be here and we are glad to have him. He’s a great kid. He’s obviously a good wrestler. He finished third in the country two years ago. Our goal is to help him with his weight and be more consistent. I think he’ll be fun to watch wrestle. He’s a competitor.”

Prized recruits Aaron Brooks, Michael Beard, Joe Lee, Seth Nevills and Carter Starocci are redshirting. Lee and Starocci won titles at the Clarion Open last weekend wrestling unattached.

Penn State opens the season at home with a dual meet against Navy on Sunday at 2 p.m

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