When your wrestling team wins titles at half the weight classes in the NCAA Tournament, as Penn State did last year, the benchmark bar against a far weaker field in a mid-season tournament is at least that.
So that’s the floor for this week’s Southern Scuffle, another tournament Penn State has historically dominated: if the Nittany Lions end up with fewer than five champions atop the podium on Tuesday night, more than one thing will have gone horribly wrong.
Perhaps a more accurate benchmark for Penn State’s return to the Scuffle after a year off (the Big Ten schedule sent Penn State on a road trip to Minnesota and Nebraska in early January last year, forcing PSU’s lead schedule maker, Cody Sanderson, to skip) isn’t last year’s National Championship or yesterday’s Midlands Championship that Iowa ran away with or even any of the six Southern Scuffles Penn State won from 2011 to 2016.
Maybe the bar is Ohio State’s amazing and concerning performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournament earlier this month. In fact, with the way this wrestling season continues to unfold, the Buckeyes could probably be Penn State’s benchmark for every result the rest of the season.
Check out Ohio State’s CKLV championship performance and score:
Brutus had seven guys place in the top four in a beastly tourney field.
Another important fact: they only took seven guys.
Well, 141-pound 2016 All-American Joey McKenna was spotted in the arena, as was 2015 National Champion Nathan Tomasello, who is attempting to both come back from a knee injury and cut back down to 125 pounds after two years at 133. Neither competed, but our friends at the ridiculous and awesome Inside Trip Podcast (@TheInsideTrip1) sounded buoyed by merely watching Tomasello run during warmups. Additionally, two-time National Champion, World Champion and Olympic Champion, Heavyweight Kyle Snyder was not competing. That’s some massive firepower the Buckeyes went without, and they still won by 15.5 points!
The field for tomorrow’s Scuffle has been comparatively diluted somewhat by innovative attempts to #GrowWrestling. Recent attendees Cornell, Minnesota & Missouri flew to Florida to participate in the South Beach Duals, and last year’s Scuffle Champ and current team points record holder, Oklahoma State, is traveling to Italy for a dual against North Carolina State in Naples.
So who’s left for Penn State to test themselves against in Chattanooga? Lehigh’s the only top-ranked team sending their full #squad, but this year’s scheduling anomalies still allow for some very interesting talents to appear in different weight-class brackets, and there remains plenty of intrigue. Won’t you come along as Clay & I take a little look & see:
Yes, there will be some intrigue, but no, none of that comes at 125 for Penn State. That doesn’t mean the field doesn’t have any! Defending National Champ Darian Cruz joins his Lehigh teammates at the Scuffle and will be the top seed at 125. He’ll likely have to square off with Virginia’s Louie Hayes in the semis, but the real storyline (hopefully) won’t come until the finals.
Oklahoma State has decided to send a number of redshirting wrestlers to Chattanooga and chief among them is fabulous freshman, Daton Fix. Fix already has top-10 wins over Ronnie Bresser and Sean Fausz to claim a Cliff Keen Las Vegas title and everybody knows what he’s capable of. Cruz is the favorite here, but Fix will present a tough challenge.
This bracket is so empty, if Schnupp wins once, he’ll be in the quarterfinals. Only four bouts for Fix to earn a title, but five for Cruz. Lehigh’s Team Title chances are an extreme longshot, but this is the kind of thing Mountain Hawk fans can look towards in the chase.
Intrigue back! Corey Keener represents PSU in a pretty loaded field at 133. Lehigh’s Scott Parker, the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the country, will be the top seed here. Parker and Keener did not meet in Penn State’s dual win over Lehigh as the latter was recovering from injury. Behind him are Virginia’s Jack Mueller, up from 125 and looking as strong as ever on top, and Drexel’s Austin DeSanto. Desanto, a true freshman, has used his relentless pace to pick up a number of impressive early season victories, but also had two losses to Mueller in Vegas.
Keener comes in as the four seed, and will have to defeat Northern Colorado’s Rico Montoya in order to square up with Parker in the semifinals. Penn State fans will hope Keener can finish at least in third, which would mean he likely topped one of Parker, DeSanto or Mueller. He’ll have to beat that caliber of wrestler to become an All-American in March.
A standard 32-man bracket, like Keener will see in Cleveland, and a second round matchup with OKST backup serial murderer Gary Wayne Harding.
MOAR INTRIGUE! The date we’ve all been waiting for is here as Nick Lee and Jered Cortez both find themselves in a very healthy bracket at 141. Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber is the top seed followed by Lehigh’s Luke Karam.
Cortez comes in at the three seed after dispatching his first ranked wrestler of the season last time out, topping Indiana’s Cole Weaver 6-5.
Lee finds himself as the fifth seed, meaning he’d likely meet CSU-Bakersfield’s Russell Rohlfing in the quarterfinals. Lee and Cortez have been (allegedly) battling for the starting spot at 141 all season with the former currently in redshirt. Lee (allegedly) dispatched of Cortez 14-1 in an earlier wrestle-off and many (it me!) have hypothesized that he could cement his spot as the starter in Chattanooga. If Lee is able to reach the finals or win, meaning he’d have a win over Alber, it would be hard to deny him the job unless Cortez is right behind.
BONUS ROUND: Cortez has the misfortune of meeting OKState redshirt Kaden Gfeller, the six seed, in the quarterfinals. Gfeller, like Lee, has an extensive resume and could provide a stiff test for the Penn State grappler.
Nick Lee is a bonus machine of the breed Cael loves and seeks, so look for big bonus in the Championship R32 & R16 rounds, and possibly even in the quarterfinals vs Rohlfing. He’s got five bouts to a title, while Cortez has six.
Surprise! Zain Retherford is the top seed here and is going to win, but UNI’s Max Thomsen comes in right behind. Jared Prince of Navy makes his season debut up at 149, having been at 141 in the past. Lock Haven’s Ronnie Perry slots in at four opposite former Pennsylvania state champ and current Virginia Cavalier Sam Krivus.
Penn State true freshman Jarod Verkleeren is unseeded and it’s currently undetermined whether he’ll be wrestling at the Scuffle after a strong season debut in Binghamton at the Bearcat Open where he took home the championship.
Zain’s Destruction Path includes five bouts, all of which are likely to be Bonus.
Much like Retherford, Jason Nolf comes in as the heavy, heavy favorite and the top seed. Unlike 149, 157 is a bit thin. Mitch Finesilver (of the famous Finesilver clan) is the tenth-ranked wrestler in the country and the second seed. Lehigh’s Ian Brown is the third seed and Alex Mossing of Air Force the four. After becoming an All-American last year, Stanford’s Paul Fox has struggled early in the season and enters as just as the five seed.
A bit surprisingly, it appears Brady Berge won’t be wrestling for Penn State after making his debut earlier in the season at the Princeton Open at 157.
Similar to Zain, Nolf has five bouts to get a title, and the only question will be what flavor of Bonus will we see in each of them?
This weight looks to provide Penn State’s Champions Row (“Murderers” is so inelegant ;)) its stiffest challenges, as Pennsylvania’s own Chance Marsteller continues to try to rebuild his college wrestling career. The 4x undefeated PA State Champ once committed to Cael, changed his mind, traveled to Stillwater, OK, where he redshirted, cut too much weight, and partied his way off the team. He returned to PA, enrolled at Lock Haven and promptly partied himself off its team. Since his last ... incident, Marsteller has become a father, appears to have remained publicly sober, earned himself a return to former Penn Stater Scott Moore’s starting Lock Haven lineup and has somewhat quietly gone undefeated with a 73% Bonus Rate.
The other (hashtag) intriguing entrant is Oklahoma State favorite son, Joseph Smith, the coach’s son, who is redshirting this year and attending unattached. This is a weight class up from the 157 he’s attempted the past few years, so it should be interesting to see what a healthy and not-cutting JoJo performs. With Chance the #4 pre-seed and All-American Bryce Steiert from UNI the #3, these semifinals could provide some excellent fireworks!
So OkSt’s JoJo Smith is now not competing; the bracket was re-drawn, so now Vincenzo & Chance can only meet in the Finals. The upper half of the bracket is a prime opportunity for Cenzo to compete against his Lions teammates for Bonus Points. He’ll have four opportunities before the Finals.
A rematch of the PSU-Lehigh Dual should be this weight’s likely Finals matchup, as Mark Hall works to stay undefeated, officially (he’s got an uncounted loss to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia in the preseason AllStar Classic). Bonus Points are likely to be the difference in what is shaping up to be a razor-thin margin at Nationals this March, so Penn State fans will be watching Hall to see how much #Dominance he can dole out in both the early and late rounds.
Hall is more fundamentally sound than both the four and five seeds in his upper half, but can he Bonus them? Five bouts to a title.
Despite the relative lack of top-end talent, the Scuffle remains a deep field with lots of wrestlers and 64-man brackets (admittedly, lots of them with opening round byes). This means Bo Nickal should have at least five and maybe six chances to pin an opponent in 38 seconds! In fact, with next-level pre-seeds of Drew Foster (UNI), Bryce Carr (CHATT) and Michael Coleman (NAVY), five pins to a title is definitely Nickal’s ceiling.
Nickal could have been screwed out of a C-ship R32 Bout here in this lightly attended weight, but he didn’t, so the five pins thing remains viable.
Intrigue took a few weights off for Penn State fans there, but at 197 returns in force. Three (3!) Nittany Lions are in this field! Anthony Cassar’s been representing PSU in the starting lineup exclusively this year, and Cael has shown in the past a deep patience to let a season fully play out before deciding on his post-season representatives (see, English, James, All-American), but this might be RSSR Matt McCutcheon’s last serious chance to make a case that he should be that rep! Also joining the fray is Shakur Rasheed, last seen trying to make an unreasonable cut to 165 pounds. Matt Williams (CSUB), Scotty Boykin (CHATT) & Nathan Traxler (STAN) are other contestants who could interrupt a 3 out of 4 PSU Semifinal.
McCutcheon & Rasheed each get one bout more than Cassar in the Championship Brackets, so if either can out-Bonus Cassar in early round matches, it’s mathematically possible that either could sustain a loss in the Finals and still be Penn State’s official team scorer for the tournament. It would be a stretch of course, something like Pin, Pin, MD, Dec vs DEC, DEC, DEC, DEC, and it wouldn’t mean anything in a team race Penn State will have already tightly locked up, but it could be fun for bracket nerds like this guy!
Nick Nevills has looked stellar this year, with wins over Tanner Hall in the All-Star Classic, over Jacob Kasper in the Keystone Classic and over Jordan Wood in the Lehigh Dual. Kasper & Wood will be looking for revenge and there’s also the matter of Lock Haven’s Thomas Haines, who was famously snubbed in the recruiting game by Cael who offered Nevills this weight’s scholarship instead.
Nevills should Bonus early, then tighten up in Semis vs Wood and a fourth bout vs Kasper in the Finals (Nevills leads the series 2-1).
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