Wooo, Penn State Wrestling is finally here! It felt good didn’t it? You kinda missed it, didn’t you?
And, hoo boy, did Thursday night’s entertainment ever scratch that itch! Because that’s what PSU Wrestling is now: entertainment.
Last we saw most of these lads, they were lighting up the center stage in St. Louis, crowning five individual National Champions and racking up the 7th-most team points in NCAA Tournament history en route to Cael Sanderson’s 6th team title.
But Cael doesn’t like to talk about past teams, so we won’t either. The 2018 edition of Penn State’s Wrestling Dynasty kicked the new season off in much the same fashion the wrestling world has become accustomed to, with entertainment, points-scoring and dominance. The Black Knights of Army West Point were kind enough to compete, and the Nittany Lions thanked them for their service with a fresh, expected, mat-wiping. A quick summary of the carnage, courtesy of GoPSUSports:
That’s five pins, a technical fall, a major decision, two decisions and one decision loss. And a 34-4 takedown advantage. Let’s look at them bout-by-bout.
125 Trey Chalifoux DEC Devin Schnupp, 6-4
RSFR Schnupp looked aggressive and decently sized, but struggled finishing shots. It’ll be interesting to see what the other candidates at this weight bring to the table, because this dude looks like a fighter. He kept attacking late in the third, but couldn’t quite muster the tying TD. Against this year’s 125 Big Ten depth, he’ll need that fight.
133: Corey Keener WBF Lane Peters (2:50)
The Central Michigan graduate transplant earned the Ridge Riley award, given to the dual’s most outstanding wrestler, with that pin. He came out heavy on Peters’ head, and just before the first period ended, we saw why.
Headlock, to back, to pin. It wasn’t quite Andrew Alton-esque (Keener will only need 10 of his next 14 wins to be via pin to match Alton’s 2011 debut), but he set it up persistently, and struck opportunistically.
On the mic with Jeff Byers afterward, Keener shared some of the differences he’s been experiencing at Penn State:
I definitely can notice the benefits I have with the coaches, workout partners, little things like diet. When I first got here in May, I worked a lot with Mark McKnight (of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club), we’re both pretty darty, attack from out in the open. I’m wrestling with guys that wrestle a real hard pace, something I struggled with before. Weight management is very important; I listen to what they tell me to eat, how much water to take in. In years past, I didn't necessarily have much guidance. I've made 133 easily both times I had to make it flat, and I felt good when I was wrestling, which wasn't always the case where I was before. It was great to have that crowd and it was definitely special performing that way.
Congrats, Corey, and welcome to PSU!
141: Jered Cortez DEC Austin Harry, 12-6
After a shoulder injury cut last season short, it was good to see Cortez back out there jumping around, looking active. He just looks so quick. He even lost a contact, found it, and put it back in his eye quickly!
His wrestling did look a little rusty, like he couldn’t find or decide on his rhythm. He only had one takedown in each of the first two periods, but picked it up in the third, with three. Still, with all the activity and pressing, he couldn’t quite get that fourth one he needed for the major. I’ll guess we’ll see improvements in that department pretty quickly.
149: Zain Retherford TF Knox Fuller, 17-1 (TF; 4:13)
Zain said at Media Day last week that after coming back into Folkstyle from his summer of Freestyle, he was working “lots of top and bottom, because they’re so different.” He added that he was “remembering my turns, adding some, working with Cunningham, he’s been helping me with my turns.”
That work was evident last night, to the tune of two 4-point near falls and one 2-point near fall en route to the tech. They each looked just as painful as we remembered.
157: Jason Nolf WBF Lucas Weiland (1:53)
Nolf is also just like we remembered him—wild and willing to get into any position. In the BSD open thread, play-by-play contributor Succss With Honor Always, compared it to Jiu Jitsu, and what do you all think? Some of this does look like a mix of martial arts:
On the Coaches Show Wednesday, Cael said about Nolf:
Jason is unbelievable. He's one of those guys we'll remember .... forever. He can get better. His shot ratio needs to go up, needs to convert more of those shots into points, which is just slowing down a little bit and focusing on technique, and you'll see more points.
Not sure last night was evidence of that slowing down & focusing Cael was talking about, but I think by this point we can rest assured that Cael’s not gonna take the fun out of Jason Nolf.
165: Vincenzo Joseph MD Andrew Mendel, 17-7
Cenzo’s match was a little similar to Cortez’. He looked rusty at the outset, giving up the opening takedown and briefly holding his head on the mat. But he shook it off quickly and scored two takedowns of his own before the first period ended.
He had variety, too!
A couple head-outside singles, then in the 2nd he slicked a nasty duck under and a beautiful high-crotch. In the third, he continued the clinic with a head snap and a beautifully timed blast double. Whereas Cortez looked a little touch and go, Cenzo definitely settled into a rhythm.
174: Mark Hall WBF Ben Harvey (4:09)
Nothing unique about the amount of time it took Hall to deck this guy. Nope. Nothing to see there.
In the Allstar Classic last Sunday, Hall struggled to score a takedown against title contender Zahid Valencia and dropped a tight 2-3 decision. Cael’s take on the Coaches Show this week: “Zahid Valencia is a guy who's really good. A guy you gotta go get a takedown on.“
Perhaps the message was received, as Hall earned three of them in the first period, and one in the second before hitting that dope-ass cement special mixer for the pin. What do yous guys call this?
184: Bo Nickal WBF Noah Stewart (0:26)
Cari gave us a fun challenge in the preview: “who will wrestle longer on Thursday night: Nolf or Retherford?”
I went with :38 because Bo’s special, and because last year he decked both Iowa’s Sammy Brooks and Oklahoma State’s Nolan Boyd in that time.
Is 2018 Bo Nickal faster than even the 38 Special? You be the judge!
197: Anthony Cassar DEC Rocco Caywood, 10-3
Cassar’s had an interesting wrestling career prior to last night’s PSU debut. In 2014, he became the first wrestler to win a New Jersey state title without ever having even qualified for the state tournament before. Later that year, he joined the grapple firm of Nickal, Nevills & Nolf as an unheralded member of Cael’s 2014 recruiting class. While redshirting, he went an unspectacular 12-6, but in the Spring of 2015 he won the Junior World Team Trials at 96kg/211lbs.
He was set to compete in the Junior World Championships in Brazil and had had a great training camp. One of the coaches then said:
Anthony is our underdog this year. The best thing about him is nobody knows who the heck he is. They haven’t seen a lot of film on him. He has only wrestled in three freestyle tournaments in his life, and he has won them all. He is expecting nothing less than to win a World title. His confidence is high and he will lay it on the line.
But then he suffered a wicked shoulder injury that has kept him out of wrestling, including during the 2016 season when he wasn’t even enrolled at PSU. On the Coaches Show this week, Cael had this to say about Cassar:
Cassar is looking really good. He's a good wrestler, he's been hurt for two years. It's hard to predict anything....other than what you see in the room. He looks good in the room. He's a really strong kid. He's got some really great attacks. For him, his focus was getting better on the mat also over the summer, and I think he's accomplished that, we'll see here in some competition. Cassar is somebody our fans are really going to enjoy watching. He's very motivated. Very rarely do you see a kid who's hurt...two years straight, and he doesn't lose any passion or work ethic. Every day he's coming in doing something on the bike, or lifting. Not one time did I ever question whether he was losing his fire. He really wants it, he wants to be the best.
So that brings us to last night. Did the fans really enjoy watching? You betcha! Dude looked calm, strong & long.
His takedowns in the first and second periods were nicely-timed counter-shots that surprised Caywood. In the third, he applied the pressure himself, earning two takedowns from his own shots, including one where he fought through a hard whizzer and one at the buzzer.
Lots still to be sorted out at this weight with Senior Matt McCutcheon and now Junior Shakur Rasheed toying with bumping up, but I’ll guess we’ll see more of these 7-point wins from Cassar turn into Major Decisions as the year goes on.
285: Nick Nevills WBF Bobby Heald (6:10)
I didn’t get to watch the Allstar Classic last Sunday, but when I read that Nevills escaped quickly in the 2nd and rode out the entire 3rd period for a 2-0 win over last year’s 3rd-place finisher Tanner Hall, I was impressed. And last night, Byers told us he weighed in at 268.6lbs, which is way up from his average of 250 last year.
At Media Day last week, Nevills said he was “really looking forward to showing the fans how much better I’ve gotten.”
He looks bigger and stronger and better to me; what do you guys think?
Penn State’s good. Again. And they’re going to be entertaining and #fun to watch compete and perform.
Sports are hard, and heartbreaking, and can be terribly annoying a lot of the time. But we’re lucky. We’re Penn State Wrestling fans. We can be peacefully #grateful we get to cheer for such a golden program.
Wrestling’s back, yo.
All the dang Woooos!