Cael Sanderson's return to the mat got off to a successful start this weekend. Cael won the trials with relative ease, and has qualified for the 2011 World Championships. He went to three periods in one match and wasn't really in danger in any of his matches. The finals match with returning world Silver Medalist Jake Herbert was closer than the score but still decidedly one sided. Up next will likely be the world championships in September. I don't think it's out of the question we will see him in wrestle in a smaller international tournament before that just to get a little bit more practice in. While the weekend went extremely successful not just for Sanderson but for the whole Nittany Lion Wrestling Club some questions remain and there are improvements to be made. It has been an exciting month for the wrestling program, as they announced a very highly rated recruiting class and released a fairly exciting schedule for next season. Continue on after the break for a breakdown of this weekends action and all the big program announcements the past few months.
Nittany Lion Wrestling Club / World Team Trials Breakdown
The only major concern about how Cael looked this weekend came in the finals match Cael looked a bit heavy on his feet and possibly a touch slow. That will need to improve at the world championships. I think a lot of it could be caused by wrestling in the challenge tournament all day before the finals. Which is a tough task when you haven't competed in a long time. But it's also safe to question if the weight cut had something to do with that. It's important to remember though even looking a step slow Cael convincingly beat a world silver medalist who is in his prime. Another question is whether this comeback will prompt Cael to try and lure a veteran freestyle coach to the NLWC. Having his brother and the other club coaches get him ready for the trials is one thing. But I have to believe Cael knows the value of having an experienced coach getting him ready for the world championships and next year's Olympics. With three world team members in the room it would make sense to bring in a veteran who can get them all ready to go.
For those wondering how this will affect the Penn State team it's important to note this isn't the first standing coach to compete on the international level. John Smith at Oklahoma St and Bruce Bomgardner at Edinboro also competed while coaching. So Penn State and Sanderson shouldn't suffer much at all from this. With worlds in September he may miss a few voluntary pre season workout depending on when they start but he should be fine when practice starts in full. As mentioned before this may also limit his recruiting time some however he has a staff that's more than capable of bringing in top recruits. Not to mention the chance to have a current olympic gold medalist on the staff could be a huge boost in recruiting not that we are really in need of one.
As far as the world championships go, it's still a bit early to make predictions but I'd have to say Cael not finishing with a medal would be a major shock. This weight class is no where near as a difficult as it was when Cael won Olympic gold. Herbert was expected to be a serious contender for gold and I think Cael very well might do the same.
As mentioned the NLWC had a great tournament crowning 3 champions in 7 weight classes. Had heavyweight Les Sigman not been hurt if very easily could have been 4 of 7 that's pretty remarkable for a new training center that is relatively small compared to NYAC and Sunkist Kids.
The other two champions were Teyon Ware and Jake Varner. Both were also the winners at the US Open a month ago. Ware once again took out last year's world team member Brent Metcalf. Watching that final it really jumped out at me that Ware at this stage is a much more pure freestyle wrestler. Metcalf while still very good looked very much like a folkstyle wrestler trying to wrestle freestyle. Positioning and mat awareness appeared to be in Ware's favor. The ending sequence of their final period really drove that home. Metcalf got in on a deep single leg, Ware knowing it could set up points for Metcalf and realizing he was on the edge of the mat stepped out of bounds. He gave up a point but kept himself out of a dangerous position. Later in the period Ware was in on a deep single and cut over a high crotch. Metcalf could have employed the same strategy of going out of bounds. Instead he tried to fight off Ware's attack ended up giving up his back to Ware and then at that point it was basically over as Ware began picking up the exposures. Metcalf is still young however and is certainly a real contender at next year's olympic trials and olympics. Varner appears to be the class of his weight class and doesn't seem to have many challengers as long as Cael stays a weight below. It will be interesting to see if Herbert tries to bulk up to this weight for the olympic trials next year. Although he appeared smaller than Cael during their final.
The potential match up between Wright and Sanderson didn't happen although it came close. Wright one win away from the match dropped a match to this years 174 pound national champion Jon Reader. Cael took on his former wrestler and beat him handily. Wright still had a good tournament for his first team trials. He knocked off veteran Andy Hrovat in his first match and then took out top seed former Pitt All American Keith Gavin. After the Reader loss he faded to 6th. I think it's unlikely Wright will take an olympic redshirt this year he appears he needs another couple of years of seasoning before he could be a really force on the olympic scene. I'm still of the opinion Wright should be wrestling greco instead of freestyle as I feel his style would do him well there.
Additions and Subtractions
We'll get the bad news out of the way first, it appears part time starter Jake Kemmerer will transfer at some point this summer. Jake wasn't very popular in most wrestling circles this season as he struggled through most of the spring. I however still think this is a big loss for the program. I believe Jake would have been much more effective at 157.
Former Pitt transfer Dave Crowell is apparently planning to rejoin the wrestling team next fall. Dave wrestled last in the Spring of 2010 for Penn State and then left the team last year. He'll compete for the 197 pound weight class which depending on how things break he could easily win.
Matt Brown will be joining the program, he was counted as a member of the recruiting class but he is essentially a transfer. He wrestled for Iowa State in the 2008 - 09 season, and is just returning from a 2 year mormon mission. He will be entering the program as a red shirt freshman, and will be placed somewhere in the giant log jam from 157 - 174.
Penn State Announces Highly Rated Recruiting Class
I'm not one to get too excited about recruiting class rankings and ranking high school wrestlers, but this appears to be a really strong haul for Penn State. More than anything when I look at a wrestling recruiting class I focus on how the team addressed needs. Penn State had to real need areas 125 - 141, and 184 - HWT. There are good starters at some of these weights but Penn State really lacked depth, as witnessed when Wright went down, and Pataky and Martellotti were out. Penn State badly badly needed to address 197 which has been a barren wasteland since Phil Davis graduated. They addressed many of these areas although I would have liked to have seen a few more upper weights get brought into the mix. It's important to remember though that the team has very little scholarship money to work with so the haul they brought in this year was surprisingly large.
Morgan McIntosh probably comes in as the highest rated recruit in the class. Many consider Morgan to be the top wrestler at any weight in this years class. He'll be joining Penn State all the way from California. The variety of locations our recruits are coming from has been a big change under Cael. Previously almost all our recruits came from the east and mid atlantic area specifically. Morgan will likely redshirt this year and will compete at 184 and 197. There is a chance we could see him at 184 this season if Quentin Wright makes the move to 197.
The top Pennsylvanian in the class is highly regarded Nico Megaludis. Nico will join the lions at 125 and could be the starter day one. Nico won 3 AAA state championships in high school and had just one loss in high school career. He figures to be a huge factor in Penn State's attempt to repeat as team champion next year.
Penn State picked up a strong late recruit from New Oxford's Jordan Conaway when Liberty dropped it's wrestling program from Division 1 to Club Status. Conaway who has long been a strong wrestler in District 3, really made a name for himself at this year's Dapper Dan, when he knocked off Evan Silver from New Jersey who many had listed as a top 3 recruit in the country. Conaway won his first PIAA state championships this year at 112 pounds. He'll likely redshirt this year while he bulks up to 125. Conaway will have a tough time cracking the lineup with Nico at 125, but he's scrappy and I wouldn't rule him out. He figures to be a career 125 barring a growth spurt so he'll provide some great depth at 125 if Nico moves up.
Penn State also added two recruits from North Carolina which isn't known as a wrestling hot bed. Colin Campbell should give Penn State some much needed depth at heavyweight. He joins Penn State after winning his second state title in high school. More significantly he's a Freestyle All American, so he's had some success against other top wrestlers in the country. Colin figures to red shirt this season but could quickly become the starter next year, after Cameron Wade graduates. Michael Waters comes in as a two time state champion and will likely add some depth at the lower weights. He also seems likely to be a red shirt next year but will help fill out the program at 133 and 141.
The recruiting haul closes out with two solid Pennsylvania wrestlers, Luke Frey and Scott Syrek. Frey's stock fell a bit during his senior season, where he finished 3rd at 140 pounds. He also will likely redshirt, but could be a potential starter at 141 next season for Penn State. He figures to spend most of his time in the 141 to 149 range for Penn State. Syrek was injured this past year and wrestled very little before that point, he appears to be more of a project type recruit, in fact he is the only wrestler in this class the doesn't have a state title. He'll provide some much needed depth at Heavyweight, he wrestled at 215 this past year so it's not inconceivable he could help Penn State out at 197 as well.
Penn State's Championship Defense Starts in November
Penn State announced it's schedule for the upcoming season last week, and it's filled with quite a few surprises.
The schedule is as follows:
Sun. 13 BLOOMSBURG
Sun. 20 MINNESOTA
Sun. 4 NITTANY LION OPEN
Fri. 9 at Lehigh
Sun. 11 WEST VIRGINIA
Sun. 18 at Lock Haven
Sun.-Mon. 1-2 Southern Scuffle, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Sun. 8 at Michigan State
Fri. 13 at Northwestern
Sun. 15 at Wisconsin
Sun. 22 IOWA
Sun. 29 OHIO STATE
Fri. 3 at Nebraska
Sun. 5 MICHIGAN
Sat. 11 at Utah Valley
Fri./Sun. 17/19 PITTSBURGH
Sat.-Sun. 3-4 2012 Big Ten Championships, West Lafayette, Ind.
Thur.-Sat. 15-17 2012 NCAA Wrestling Championships, St. Louis, Mo.
The first thing that jumps out about the schedule is the return of Iowa to Rec Hall. With Nebraska joining the Big Ten the schedules had to be reset, so the Hawkeyes will make a trip to Penn State for the 2nd straight year. Conversely Penn State will travel to East Lansing to wrestle at Michigan State for the 2nd year in a row. The match with the Hawkeyes will likely be one of the mostly hotly anticipated on the schedule and is sure to be a sell out for the second year in a row.
Penn State has two other great home duals against Minnesota and Michigan. The Minnesota match will be a rematch of last years exciting dual in Minnesota. The only down side is that the match takes place way to early in the schedule to build much hype for it, but both of those teams should be very good next year right out of the gate.
Another match that jumps out is the trip to Utah Valley. This match is basically a homecoming trip for the Sandersons, and a chance to draw some attention to an up and coming program. Unfortunately all of Utah Valley's NCAA qualifiers, including their first All American Ben Kjar, graduated last year. So it's unclear what kind of team they will have next year. But it does give Penn State a chance to see a different team.
On the down side for Penn State there is just one big tournament on the schedule as they look to defend their Southern Scuffle title on January 1st and 2nd. Both the Sprawl and Brawl duals and the Virginia Duals have been removed from the schedule, and the National Duals have not been added as many had hoped. The Virginia Duals had to be removed from the schedule as the Big Ten has scheduled matches for the same weekend this year. It will be a shame to see Penn State not compete in a single dual meet tournament this fall. I could devote a whole post to this but I really think dual tournaments are something NCAA wrestling should be focusing to expand the sport. It's time for the Big Ten or the NCAA to step up and start crowning a Dual Champion, to provide the sport with a true team championship.
Speaking of the Big Ten their scheduling is absolutely terrible. Scheduling over the Virginia Duals which was starting to pick up steam as top tournament just shows a blatant lack of respect for the sport. They also continue with their horrid policy of not scheduling two home meets for a team in the same weekend. This proves to be difficult for the fans and is a real detriment to Penn State who has to fly to basically every Big Ten meet under this scheduling scheme. In addition scheduling two of the top teams in the conference to wrestle in November is laughably stupid. That would be like scheduling Ohio State and Michigan to play football in the last week of August.
As the out of conference schedule goes it remains largely unchanged and is a little underwhelming. I understand the desire to schedule other PA teams, but Bloomsburg doesn't really bring much to the table. The Lock Haven match is somewhat of a rivalry but has become a complete farce in recent years. The Lehigh match has become a pretty heated rivalry and I would keep that one. However I would like to see Penn State drop West Virginia, Pittsburgh or Bloomsburg and pick up a match against Cornell or at least Rutgers. Who are also regional programs but would provide a much better match.
Penn State Has 3 Academic All Americans
Keeping up with the Penn State mantra of Success with Honor Penn State had 3 Academic All Americans this season. Quentin Wright, David Taylor and Cameron Wade were Penn State's All Americans this year. In terms of overall team GPA Penn State finished 11th in the nation and 1st in the Big Ten. Surprisingly only 4 Big Ten teams made the Top 30, Iowa (23), Michigan State(26), Ohio State(30). Also somewhat interestingly Penn State and Iowa were the two top teams in the conference while Michigan State and Ohio State were two of the worst.