Your Penn State Nittany Lions, champions 5 of the last 6 seasons, begin the year ranked 4th in most pre-season polls. We lose two all-time wrestlers in Nico and Morg, but still return a bunch of studs. Let's walk through the weights, and take a look around in the conference and nationally.
Our Guy: true freshman Nick Suriano, Paramus, NJ (Bergen Catholic).
Nick got a #10 pre-season rank from Intermat, but don't expect him to finish the year there. He won 4 NJ state titles, went unbeaten, gave up just 1 takedown during high school, and won an epic half-hour overtime match against current junior freestyle bronze medalist Daton Fix.
What Cael Says: "Intense. He is on point all the time, very consistent and over all a guy that you have to watch very closely and tell him when it is time for him to go home. There are a lot of positives with his head and training. If you come in on a Saturday afternoon and he is on the treadmill training, you kind of have to tell him all right it is time to go home - and then you have to make sure he doesn't come back. We do this to make sure that he doesn't tire himself out, and he is at full force when it comes to his matches. He is very committed, focused, tough, and can wrestle for hours and hours. He is blessed with that ability, which a lot of it comes from his work ethic, but genetics also. He is a true freshman too with high expectations, and we just want him to improve and get better throughout the year. Consistent - Nick is always going to be Nick."
Big Tens: Iowa's Thomas Gilman is the only returning All-American, so Nick could make some waves in conference.
National Favorite: Gilman, Iowa. He's a senior, and lost in the national final to Nico last year. He's a taller 125lber, and will work your head before using his length for a sweep single to your right foot.
Contrarian Pick: Joey Dance, VATECH. Also a senior. Also likes the sweep single to your right foot. Injuries and - according to his coach Kevin Dresser - an occasionally iffy mental state have produced some head scratching losses, particularly at NCAAs.
Sleepers for the Podium (ranked outside the top 8, but finish top 8): #13 Dalton Macri (CORN), #15 Nick Piccinnini (OKST), #18 Sean Russell (BORO), #20 Brent Fleetwood (CMU)
Early Test: Nick will get #4 Connor Schram of Stanford (via Canon Mac) in his Rec Hall opener November 13th. Schram's a very large 125lber, and a defensive specialist who won't take a ton of shots. If Nick can create his own offense on Schram, then sky's the limit.
Our Guy: sophomore Jered Cortez, Carol Stream, IL (Glenbard North).
Like nearly everyone else in this lineup, Jered was a top-10-ish recruit when he came out in 2014. Super athletic, freestyle wins, yada yada yada. He also got a #10 rank from Intermat to start the year.
He didn't wrestle a ton of matches while he sat out last season due to transferring from Illinois. The one match everyone points to is his 5-4 win over Jordan Conaway in last year's Nittany Lion Open - but it's hard to take much from matches between teammates.
What Cael Says: "Our starter is most likely going to be Jered Cortez. He will be a sophomore eligibility - transfer from Illinois."
Big Tens: crazy loaded. #1 Cory Clark (Iowa), #2 Zane Richards (ILL), #3 Nathan Tomasello (OHST), #4 Eric Montoya (NEB)
National Favorite: Tomasello. He's bumping up from 125, and he'll be a short 133 - but he's a little package of dynamite. Explosive, powerful athlete. And his left-handed high crotch is the best offensive weapon of any of the cats in 25 or 33, for my money.
Contrarian Pick: Clark. Not the greatest athlete out there, but the kid is tough. Great scrambler, and never concedes a position. Won't be an easy out for Tomasello.
Sleepers for the Podium: #11 Jaydin Eierman (MIZZOU) - made some big moves on the summer freestyle circuit. This weight is loaded, though. Gonna be difficult to get on the podium, so not a ton of sleepers here.
Early Test: Cortez could meet Pitt's #9 Dom Forys (North Allegheny) at the Keystone Classic, November 20th, and will probably get Scotty Parker (Pennridge) in the Lehigh Dual December 4th. Neither has an AA credential, but both are very, very tough kids.
Our guy: senior Jimmy Gulibon (Derry Area)
After placing 5th as a sophomore, Jimmy struggled his junior season with injuries and, in my opinion, confidence in his offense. But he's a great kid, a tireless worker, and he definitely could go out with a bang this year.
What Cael Says: "I think that Jimmy is good enough to win, and I don't think anyone can argue that. He is a guy that trains real hard, is very disciplined, and is a guy that can win. He lives a very clean lifestyle and over all I think he has everything he needs to be successful but he is the one that has to decide to go out there and win. I can't do that for him and neither can Jason Nolf, but I think that if he wants to be a national champion then he has to do what it takes. He certainly is prepared for that, so I would not count him out. He is a fifth year senior, who has had some huge wins in his career and who has the capability of making a huge difference for us as a team, just with his attitude alone. We know what we are going to get out of most of the guys on our team, but Jimmy is a guy who really has an opportunity to show what he can do."
Big Tens: Not terrible. #4 Anthony Ashnault (RUTG) is the likely favorite, and #7 Tommy Thorn (MINN) is...well, he's a Thorn, wrestling for Minnesota. Mike Thorn, David Thorn - same thing. Really, pick most Minnesota wrestlers, and you know exactly what you're going to get. Fundamentally sound, basics are all technically precise, hard ride on top, physical grinder from neutral, you get the idea. It's like a factory.
Sorry - got off topic there. But beyond Ashnault and Thorn, Jimmy gets a talented freshman in #13 Ke-Shawn Hayes (OHST), who destroyed most of his competition during redshirt last year. And not a ton else.
National Favorite: #1 Dean Heil (OKST). A lot of folks bag on Heil for close matches. But the thing is, he wins all of them. He's really athletic, with a devastating duck under, and - as evidenced by those uninterrupted close wins - he's pretty tough mentally.
Contrarian Pick: #3 Joey McKenna (STAN). He probably walks around at 225lbs, but somehow manages to cut down to 141. Explosive double leg. Really, really good.
Sleepers for the Podium: #11 Matt Kolodzik (PRIN). But, like 133, this weight is deeeeep. 1 - 6 are all title contenders, and it's going to be difficult to break into the top 8.
Early Test: #3 McKenna, November 13th.
Our guy: junior #1 Zain Retherford (Benton)
What Cael Says: "I have learned a lot from him. I mean, Zain is Zain. I watch him in awe, just his consistency and mentality alone. He overall represents our program in an extremely positive way. The example of a leader that has shown has done for this team is amazing."
So, yeah. Zain's pretty good.
Big Tens: Not Applicable. Iowa has #2 Brandon Sorensen. Doesn't matter.
National Favorite: Zain.
Contrarian Pick: you can't find a contrarian pick anywhere on the entire interwebs. I'm not making one either.
Sleepers for the Podium: Three names I like: #10 Pat Lugo (BORO), #12 Davion Jeffries (OU), and #13 Ken Theobold (RUTG). Maybe Minnesota's #18 Fredy Stroker turns it on, too.
Early Test: N/A
Our guy: sophomore #1 Jason Nolf (Kittanning)
Nolf is pretty good. With Isaiah Martinez bumping up to 165, I don't believe there is anyone in Nolf's ballpark.
What Cael Says: "At 157 we have Jason Nolf. Same thing as Zain."
Big Tens: Not Applicable. Michigan has #4 Brian Murphy. Nolf tech'd him in 6 minutes last year.
National Favorite: Nolf.
Contrarian Pick: I haven't found any contrarian picks on the interwebs. Okie State's Joseph Smith is pretty good, and Cornell's Dylan Palacio is, you know, weird. But, no. You'd have to be crazy to pick either over Nolf.
Sleepers for the Podium: a lot of interesting names out there, actually. #12 Collin Heffernan (CMU), #16 May Bethea (UPenn), #13 BJ Clagon (RID), and our darkhorse favorite, former Nittany Lion #18 Garett Hammond (now at Drexel).
Early Test: N/A
Our guy: freshman #10 Vincenzo Joseph (Central Catholic)
Cenzo wrestled folkstyle almost not-at-all last year. He was scheduled to compete at the Scuffle - but missed weight. Not the best thing of all times. However, he's been lightning on the freestyle circuit, with wins over (deep breath): Anthony Ashnault, Anthony Valencia, Joseph Smith, Logan Massa. That's, you know, pretty good.
What Cael Says: "165 will be Vincenzo Joseph, who will be a freshman but he is a guy that we have a lot of confidence in."
So there we go. We're confident now, too.
Big Tens: only #1 I-Mar, and #2 Ike Jordan. I-Mar won 157 last year. Zeke finished 2nd to Ape Dieringer. After those two, Cenzo will get two more super froshes, like himself - the aforementioned Massa, and Iowa's wunderkind Alex Marinelli, who sounds like he's going to break Tom Brands' anti-freshman policy.
National Favorite: I-Mar is good. Athletic, explosive, and - get this - humble. He's a good kid.
Contrarian Pick: some folks like #3 Daniel Lewis (MIZZOU). He's a beast on top. I like Ike. Great fundamentals, good in all positions, tough - he gets forgotten, because of Dieringer (last 2 years) and I-Mar this year. But I don't think I-Mar will roll over him.
Sleepers for the Podium: the freshmen (Massa, Valencia, Marinelli) can do some things.
Early Test: #7 Mitch Minotti, at the Lehigh dual. Can Cenzo score on a slow-it-down defensive specialist?
Our guy: we don't know. The contestants: senior Geno Morelli (DuBois), sophomore #18 Shakur Rasheed (Coram, NY), and maybe, probably not, but maybe, true freshman Mark Hall (Apple Valley, MN).
What Cael Says: "This weight class is a little more competitive. I think that the usual suspects, who are just up a weight class now, are Geno Morelli who won two matches at nationals last year, and Shakur Rasheed who really did some amazing things but was just in the wrong weight class last year. We sill don't know what he is capable of, he works very hard and challenges himself, so that will be fun to see. We also have Mark Hall, who is doing very well."
What that probably means is this - Geno / Shakur will split starts to begin the year. We'll see who scores more points in tournaments. And somewhere around January 1st, Cael will pick a starter - probably Shakur, because he has better offense. However, if PSU really needs the team points in March, Cael also has Junior World Champ Mark Hall that he could pull off of redshirt. But he probably won't. But he might.
Big Tens: gonna be a grind. Bo Jordan (OHST) is #1, and probably wrestles a lot better here than on hunger-strike down at 65. #4 Nate Jackson (IND) beat Bo Nickal in the dual last year, and proved it wasn't a total fluke by taking Bo to the wire at NCAAs. Plus Iowa's #8 Alex Meyer and Illinois' #9 Zach Brunson are both back for their senior seasons. #14 Micah Barnes (NEB) and #15 Nick Wanzek (MINN) are in the mix, too.
National Favorite: Bo Jordan (OHST) - but not without some questions.
Contrarian Pick: I like #3 Zach Epperly (VATECH). He lost his opener at NCAAs last year - and then won 7 straight in the wrestlebacks to finish 3rd. He's athletic, strong like bull, has a gas tank, and if he trusted his offense more, he'd take the crown.
Sleepers for the Podium: Intermat lists him at 184, but I've heard that he's going 174: Zahid Valencia (ASU). Also, #10 Jaeden Bernstein (NAVY) is a pinning machine. #13 Jonathan Schliefer (PRIN) has a lot of tools. And it's a bit of a homer pick, but I like #17 Ryan Preisch (LEH). Kid is tough.
Early Test: Preisch, December 4th. Lehigh is good.
Our guy: sophomore #3 Bo Nickal (Allen, TX). Double overhooks outside trip is a crazy move. It's hard to do. You might die. It's the "Iron Lotus" of wrestling moves.
Bo Nickal did it in the NCAA championship final.
Now, Bo died that night. But if you can't get excited to watch a guy like that wrestle, then just go back to sleep in your coffin already.
What Cael Says: "I think (losing in the finals) it hurt both (Bo and Nolf) of them really bad. That is life though. Any time after you loose a big match is going to bother you but using that to move forward is the key. They both had a very productive off-season, trained very hard, but in the end they are who they are, win or lose, and that won't change. They love to compete and they love to train so I think that experience will benefit them in the long run."
Big Tens: #2 Myles Martin (OHST), #4 TJ Dudley (NEB), #8 Sammy Brooks (Iowa), and maybe #9 Dom Abounader (MICH) - but he might redshirt. Either way, there are some studs at this weight.
National Favorite: #1 Gabe Dean (CORN), 2x defending champ.
Contrarian Pick: Bo.
Sleepers for the Podium: good luck. 184 is probably the deepest weight at NCAAs. #10 Zach Zavatsky (VATECH) should make it up there this year. #15 Jordan Ellingwood (CMU) is a tank.
Early Test: maybe not. Okie State might show up to Reno TOC (12/18), in which case Bo'd get #5 Nolan Boyd. Barring that, it might have to wait until 1/8/17, and a visit to Omaha, NE, for #4 Dudley.
Our guy: we don't know yet. The contestants: junior Matt McCutcheon (Kiski Area), sophomore Anthony Cassar (Rocky Hill, NJ), and freshman Kellan Stout (Mt. Lebanon).
Word from the wrestling room is that Mouse lost the wrestle-off to Bo, and though he certified at 174lbs, it's probably not a good idea to try to wrestle there - just too difficult of a cut, with zero room for error. So, presumably, Mouse will head north to 197, and be able to drink some water from time to time.
What Cael Says: "Right now we have Kellen Stout who was a freshman red shirt last year, who has gotten a lot better. He is very talented and comes from a great family. We also have Anthony Cassar who is in the process of getting back to full speed. He has had a lot of success, and has been cleared to drill but he is still a ways away from competing. The plan is that he will be back and challenging at that weight class."
That was before Bo beat Mouse for the spot at 184, though. We'll have to wait and see.
Big Tens: #2 Brett Pfarr (MINN) - and not a ton otherwise. Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker squares at 5th, but he's not scaring anyone. And the next highest ranked BigTen is #16 Kollin Moore (OHST) - a freshman. So whoever takes this spot in the lineup should be able to get some things done.
National Favorite: #1 J'Den Cox, who took Bronze at the Rio Olympics. He's pretty good.
Contrarian Pick: Not Applicable. I like Pfarr a lot, but Cox pinned him in last year's semifinals. So there you go.
Sleepers for the Podium: take your pick. After the top 4 at this weight, just about anything goes. I like #13 Chip Ness (UNC).
Early Test: they'll all be tests. Next Friday, the 11th, at Army, in the season opener. vs #15 Rocco Caywood.
Our guy: sophomore #14 Nick Nevills (Clovis, CA). You know the story. Nick did some awesome things as a true freshman redshirt, like beating #10 Denzel Dejournette at the Scuffle. Then he tore his pec just before last season began. He got cleared to wrestle about 3 weeks before the post-season started. He tried to go, and should have beaten Lehigh's Max Wessell (who made AA two weeks later), but got hosed on a call, and then took a bad shot. The Big Tens didn't pan out, and Nick's freshman season was over after just a handful of matches.
Nick's going to make things right.
What Cael Says: "(285) will be Nick Nevills who is very healthy and ready to go."
Big Tens: Kyle Snyder (OHST) is the defending Big Ten champ, national champ, and Olympic gold medalist. He's pretty good. So is #3 Connor Medbery, an athletic, offensive-minded big man. They're probably clear of the crowd. But after that, things open up.
National Favorite: Snyder.
Contrarian Pick: not applicable.
Sleepers for the Podium: I like #11 Nathan Butler (STAN) and #12 Jared Johnson (UTC).
Early Test: is Nick working his snatch single, and taking better shots, against a guy like #17 Doug Vallaro (LEH) on December 4th?
This was a lot of typing, so I'm going to take a break for now. But more charts and tables and prediction stuff is on the way. Special thanks to the folks at Intermat for the rankings, and Penn State Pat at GoPSUSports, the best SID in the business.
Great to be back talking wrestling, isn't BSD Wrestling fam?