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Penn State Wrestling: Recruiting and US Open Preview

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Let's touch on PSU recruiting, and take a look at the US Open

The NCAA recently released the list of host cities for the next four NCAA Wrestling Championships. Are you ready, WPIAL?

  • 2019 - Pittsburgh, PA
  • 2020 - Minneapolis, MN
  • 2021 - St. Louis, MO
  • 2022 - Detroit, MI

So much for the chatter about different sites (Atlanta! Dallas! Los Angeles! Somewhere in Florida!), or the capitulation to temptation, Las Vegas. This round stayed conservative, with a mostly mid-western lineup. But congratulations to Jason Nolf, whose projected senior season will end where his folkstyle wrestling career began. Pretty cool. Maybe we should order some blue-and-white terrible towels?

RECRUITING

Penn State received the verbal commitment of top prospect Seth Nevills (Clovis, CA) this week, Class of 2018. Depending upon the ranking source, Seth’s either a top-5 or top-10 recruit nationally, across all 14 high school weight classes. He’s pretty good, and joins three other top-10 recruits from 2018 already planning to attend Dear Old State (Gavin Teasdale, Roman Bravo-Young, and Travis Wittlake).

In football, the way to get recruited is to attend sports camps, be a certain height/weight, and then run fast, jump high, and/or throw some iron around a gym. If you’re big + fast + strong, a name program will offer you a scholarship on not much more than athleticism and measurables. Once the other name programs catch wind of that, they’ll offer you, too. And then it’s a bidding war between SEC bagmen to see who will buy your grandma the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am. When you finally get enrolled at school, maybe you work out, maybe you don’t - it’s hard to know until you play football against a bunch of other D1 caliber athletes. And with 84 other full scholarships available, it’s not absolutely critical that you do (unfortunately).

In wrestling, the way to get recruited is to win wrestling matches. Compete at big summer tournaments, populated by a bunch of other D1 caliber athletes, and win. All done. Consequently, it’s quite a bit easier to know if you’re going to make it in D1 - at least athletically. So with that as a primer, here’s a table full of recruiting stats, mostly summarized from Earl’s data at D1CW (thanks, Earl).

TOP RECRUITS, 2010 - 2017 CLASSES

SCHOOL-- --TOP10-- --TOP15-- --TOP30-- --CHAMPS-- --AA--
PSU 15 15 16 6 11
OHST 12 14 17 4 8
OKST 7 11 18 2 10
CORN 6 7 9 0 2
IOWA 5 9 17 1 7
ILL 4 6 10 1 4
MICH 4 5 9 0 4
JNW 3 5 7 1 2
NEB 3 3 12 0 3
LEH 2 3 10 0 3
VT 2 2 8 0 5
WISC 2 2 6 0 1
ISU 1 3 5 0 0
MINN 1 4 13 0 6
MIZZ 1 1 1 1 1
RUTG 1 1 1 0 1
STAN 1 1 2 0 2
UVA 1 4 9 0 3
OU 0 0 6 1 2
PITT 0 1 4 0 0
UNC 0 0 5 0 1
UNI 0 1 5 0 1

A shown by the table above - plus the 6 national team trophies from the last 7 years that are hanging out in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex - it seems one really good strategy for winning national championships is to get Top-15 recruits, and have them wrestle for your school. I don’t understand why more coaches don’t try this approach. Strange.

But here’s the absolute kicker - it’s not merely getting great recruits. It’s also coaching them to win individual national titles. And no one has done that nearly as well as the Penn State Wrestling staff. The table below shows those Top-15 ranked recruits who have had AT LEAST ONE trip to NCAAs (so, it excludes all 2017 recruits, plus most of 2016 (but not Mark Hall)).

2010 - 2016 Top 15 Recruits and NCAA Titles

SCHOOL --Top15 Recruits-- --Won NCAAs-- --Win %--
PSU 11 6 54.5%
OHST 11 4 36.4%
OKST 10 2 20.0%
ILL 6 1 16.7%
CORN 5 0 0.0%
IOWA 6 0 0.0%
MICH 4 0 0.0%

The last 7 recruiting classes have shown that, if you’re a Top-15 caliber recruit and you choose Penn State, there’s a better than 50% chance that you win at least one individual national title. That’s certified insane. Obviously, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. Let’s also not forget all of the other “stuff” - knees, shoulders, neck/back, school work, many assorted “distractions”, some in sundresses, the Big Ten meat-grinder, and entire country of elite peers trying to beat you - yet most PSU recruits conquer all of that, anyhow. That’s un.be.lievable.

That’s from 2010 - 2016, too, by the way. David Taylor and Ed Ruth were Class of 2009, and are excluded from the results. Same for Quentin Wright (2008). So...even more crazy.

At Ohio State, it’s about 1-in-3, which would be really awesome if Penn State didn’t exist. At Oklahoma State, you’re down to 1-in-5 (20%). Then, the bottom falls out. For the next 4 schools combined - Cornell, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan - you’re under 5% (they combined for a 1-in-21, or 4.8% to be exact, where the 1 is Isaiah Martinez, and the other 20 are not Isaiah Martinez (nor Vincenzo Joseph)).

Oh by the way? Penn State’s team GPA was 3.27, and PSU had more Academic All Big Ten wrestlers than every other school (15) last year. If you’re a parent, why would you want your kid to go anywhere else?

US Open

The US Open starts next week. We covered 57kg (125.5lbs) in the last post. Short answer: watch out for Nico.

Logan Stieber is the world gold medalist at 61kg (134 lbs). As such, he gets an automatic bye into the best-of-3 finals at the Team Trials in June. So we probably won’t see Logie Bear at the US Open next week. More than likely, that advantage will also encourage top contenders - like last year’s Trials runner-up Tyler Graff - to take a shot at 57kg, rather than this weight. Two guys who can’t make the cut to 57kg are Jayson Ness (MINN) and Cody Brewer (OU). Ness is getting up there in age, but he’s obviously still a heckuva wrestler. Brewer almost came to NLWC, but switched gears to join former PSUer Matt Storniolo on the Northwestern staff. He’s explosive.

Perhaps the most intriguing weight is 65kg (143lbs). NLWC’s Frank Molinaro came about half-a-second from winning bronze at Rio 2016. Now he’s an assistant on Tony Robie’s staff at Virginia Tech, and will be carrying the Southeast RTC banner. His top competition might be a guy by the name of Zain Retherford. And if it’s not Zain, then it’s probably Jimmy Kennedy. Or BJ Futrell, who has come on strong of late. It’s going to be a stacked weight, and should be a lot of fun.

Prepare for more excitement at 70kg (154lbs). James Green won bronze here in 2015, but did not medal last year. So he’ll likely be at the US Open, looking to secure the automatic bid to the Trials finals. Standing in his way? Two-time NCAA champ Jordan Oliver (if he goes here; he might also go at 65kg), and/or, Jason Nolf, who has confirmed that he’s planning on wrestling here at 70kg, rather than up at 74kg like he did last year (which made sense last year, since 70kg was not a World Team weight last year at Juniors). Too many are quick to dismiss Nolf’s Junior Trials final loss(es) to Mark Hall. For one, Jason hadn’t wrestled a ton of freestyle; but equally if not more important is that he was wrestling up a weight class. Granted, Nolf’s devil-may-care approach to leg defense might not be the best idea for freestyle. But it should be awfully fun nonetheless. You know he’ll try anything once, and can the seniors match his pace?

At 74kg (163lbs), you get the Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Dake. Cue the Animal Planet episode between the established, dominant grizzly, and the grizzly who wants to take his place. You’re welcome to dislike Dake in the comments if you want, but fess up - the guy is a freaking hoss, too. They’re both so good that it’s only in passing that we mention the rest of the field likely includes Alex Dieringer, Cenzo Joseph, Isaiah Martinez, Mark Hall, and Logan Massa. Disgusting.

From 74kg, we climb all the way to 86kg (189lbs) - which is ridiculous. But whatever. Here we are, and since J’Den Cox won bronze at 2016 Rio, he can sit out the Open, and wait for the Team Trials finals in June. The guy he’s most likely to get there - and our pick for this US Open - is NLWC’s David Taylor, who beat not one, not two, but 3 different world and Olympic medalists a few weeks ago, at the World Cup. That includes pinning 2016 Rio Gold medalist Yazdani on Yazdani’s home mat (it was in Iran). The Magic Man has reshaped himself into a full-size 86kg wrestler, and he’s hitting ankle picks again. Whew, is he fun to watch.

The last two weights - ehh. Kyle Snyder rules 97kg (213lbs). Sure, he’s only 20 years old. He’s also a 2x reigning World/Olympic Gold medalist. For last Christmas break, he traveled to Siberia and whipped all of the doped up, steroided freaks from the former Soviet Union. It was basically like Rocky IV, minus the wood chopping training montage. He’s...he’s pretty good. But he doesn’t have to wrestle at the Open, because he’s already guaranteed a spot in the June Trials final.

And then we have 125kg (275lbs). Our fervent hope is that Nick Gwiazdowski (or Connor Medbery) comes thru at the US Open, because Nick (and Connor) tries what we like to call “offense”. But standing in Nick’s (and Connor’s) way are a whole lotta shaved bears from the last 6 years of NCAAs, who made most folks turn off the TV for 15 minutes of the national finals. Dom Bradley, Tony Nelson, Zach Rey, Bobby Telford. Best of luck to all, but ugh - come on, Gwiz.