Recruit, develop, win. It's that simple in collegiate sports. And in wrestling, with just 9.9 scholarships, that formula becomes even more pronounced.
Unlike last season, however, when Penn State landed five different verbal commitments from top-10 recruits by the end of July, our Nittany Lions sit midway through August with zero commitments in the bag. It's an unfamiliar position for Penn State. But there's also justification.
Cael, Cody, and Casey typically recruit replacements for junior starters, not senior starters. It's roster management 101. By recruiting the replacement one year early, the incoming freshman can redshirt while sitting behind a senior stud. That's the goal, at least. Ed Ruth and David Taylor graduate in 2014? A pair of top 50 recruits, Matt McCutcheon (#32 overall) and Garrett Hammond (#41 overall), hit campus in 2013.
Things don't always work out that way, of course. You may not have the scholarship money available. The rising senior class may not have the type of guy Cael wants. Or, if it does, (deep breath), the wrestler may not want to come to Penn State (as unbelievable as that may be). Also - the wrestler our coaches really want might be a junior or sophomore, instead of a senior. While McCutcheon and Hammond were recruited to redshirt, Zain Retherford probably was not. The former Cadet World Champion was the #3 overall recruit in 2013, and took the starting 141 spot in the lineup from graduated Bryan Pearsall just a few weeks after leaving Benton High School - no redshirt, straight to the NCAA podium.
So, with those factors in mind, let's take a quick look at Penn State's 2014/15 seniors and juniors, paired with our incoming freshmen, and see what lineup holes have been addressed already, and which still remain (bold = expected starter in 2014/15).
Four seniors plus two juniors form 60% of the (projected) starting lineup this season. That's a lot. But it's also not unusual. Plus, as shown in the table below, Cody, Cael, and Casey had already planned for this. Six new recruits are already stepping on to the mat this year to plug the holes next season.
|Nick Nevills||285||#5 overall|
|Anthony Cassar||197||#20 at 195|
|Bo Nickal||174/184||#7 overall|
|Corey Rasheed||157/165||#43 overall|
|Gary Dinmore||157/165||#90 overall|
|Jason Nolf||149/157||#4 overall|
In what was a deep and talented senior class last year, the brothers Sanderson went heavy, taking six top 100/150 recruits, including three top-10 blue chippers. Not coincidentally, those six recruits pair perfectly with five current junior and senior starters - Nevills to replace Lawson/Gingrich/Ruggear at 285; Cassar for McIntosh at 197; Nickal for Hulk Hands at 174; Rasheed/Dinmore for Dylan at 157; and Nolf for Andrew at 149.
But we're still missing a spot: 125lbs. Nico's a senior, Jordan Conaway's a junior, and behind them? Nada. All of us fans, at this point, expect Nico to redshirt this year AND next year while making a run at the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympics. In a rare bit of synergy, that seems to be what is best for both Nico and the team. Nico gets to take a shot at his dream at a young age, and the team gets three years of top flight coverage at 125 (the next two by Conaway, and the third by a returning Olympian - Nico). Plus, the consensus top recruiting prize at the 125 slot is three years away. He is current Cadet World Champion Spencer Lee, who tech falled his way to the international title this summer, and is a rising sophomore at....wait for it....Franklin Regional (Murraysville, PA), Nico's high school.
However, we're still thin at 125. If Nico 'shirts, and Jordan missed time from the lineup for any reason (e.g., injury, illness, academics, team rules, whatever), then crickets could start chirping. (There's probably someone certified at 125 as a just-in-case option, but I don't know who that would be.) Let's look at the best options among the rising seniors and juniors. Click linked names for match video.
|Weight||Wrestler||Year||High School||State||TOM Rank||Flo Rank||Overall|
|126||Nick Piccininni||Sr.||Ward Melville||NY||1||1||4|
|126||Chaz Tucker||Sr.||Blair Academy||NJ||4||4||21|
|120||Anthony Cefolo||Sr.||Hanover Park||NJ||9||12||42|
|106||Devin Brown||Sr.||Franklin Regional||PA||1||6 (113)||100|
If you want to take a 125lber this year because you don't believe Nico will redshirt, then Nick Piccininni is the top dog. He's a top 10 recruit for a reason, having accumulated a ton of accolades, including winning Flo Nationals a few months ago. Devin Brown could be another one to keep your eye on. His #100 D1CollegeWrestling.net rank owes to his (lack of) size, not to his skill set, or his motor. And in that regard alone, he reminds you of Jordan Conaway.
|Weight||Wrestler||Year||High School||State||WT Rank||Flo Rank|
|113||Jack Mueller||Jr.||Wyoming Seminary||PA||3||2|
|120||Nick Suriano||Jr.||Bergen Catholic||NJ||2||1|
|126||Luke Pletcher||Jr.||Greater Latrobe||PA||2||2|
|126||Mickey Phillipi||Jr.||Derry Area||PA||7||6|
If you strike out with (or pass up) this year's senior class and Nico does not redshirt, then among the juniors, Suriano and Pletcher both figure to be top 25-level recruits next season.
So put your coach's whistle on, BSD Wrestling team. What's your strategy at 125lbs, and whom are you recruiting?