I’m Clay Sauertieg and I will be your tour guide here today as we explore the wonderful world of Penn State wrestling.
For those of you who have been here before, you can pass go, collect nothing and listen to the first episode of the Penn State MatCast that will come out next week as well as check out the incoming season preview with myself, Cari, JP and BScaff.
But for you first-timers, well, you’re in for a treat.
Why should you follow along with Penn State wrestling?
The answer, of course, is that winning is fun and Penn State does a loooottttt of winning.
The Nittany Lions are coached by four-time, undefeated NCAA champion and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson.
Sanderson took over at Penn State in 2010 and has seven national championships in nine years.
As it turns out, when you put a legend of the sport with a great coaching mind in the most fertile wrestling region in the country, you’re gonna have a good time!
Oh and what a good time it has been.
In his nine years at the helm of the Nittany Lions, Sanderson has coached 11 different wrestlers to 20 individual championships.
Additionally, Sanderson’s teams are 126-14-2 in dual meets, which are the equivalent of regular season games in any other sport.
So yeah, there’s been a lot of winning.
Oh, and they’re heavy favorites win it all again this time around.
We’re going to breakdown a bit of the basics of college wrestling for you first and then we’ll dive into the 2018-19 team.
There are a number of ways wrestlers can score points, but we’ll just give you the basics.
A wrestler can score 2 points for taking his opponent down, this means the two wrestlers are both standing and the attacking wrestler takes his opponent to the ground and maintains control. A takedown is given when three supporting points of the defensive wrestler hit the mat.
Once taken down, the wrestler underneath can get a point for standing up and escaping his opponent by turning, facing breaking his grip. He could also get 2 points by reversing his opponent, which happens when the wrestler on bottom gains control of the wrestler on top without first being awarded an escape.
The top wrestler can also score points of his own after a takedown if he is able to flip the wrestler to his back so that his shoulders are facing the mat.
Once he does this, the referee will start counting out loud. If the referee’s count reaches two seconds the top wrestler will receive 2 points, if he reaches four seconds he will receive 4 points (there is no in between).
The top wrestler may then either work to pin his opponents shoulders flat to the mat, which would end the match, or he may release the hold and try to score more points.
When a wrestler is in the top position, they will amass what’s called riding time. This counts up the entire time they’re on top and goes the opposite way the entire time they’re on bottom.
If a wrestler amasses more than one minute of riding time in the match, they are awarded a point at the match’s conclusion.
There are also technical violations such as stalling. If a wrestler is deemed to be stalling the referee will first warn the offending wrestler and if he is warned again a point is given to his opponent. We’ll worry about the nuance and details of that and other rules later.
Matches are three periods and seven minutes long.
The first is three minutes, while the second and third period and each two minutes.
The first period, both wrestlers start in the “neutral” position or standing up.
In the second period, the referee will flip a disc to determine which wrestler gets “choice” for that period.
The wrestler with choice may either choose to start down, on top, neutral, or defer his choice to the third period, in which case his opponent will get to choose in the second period.
A match may end early if a wrestlers is pinned or if one wrestler is leading the other by 15 points or more, this is called a “technical fall” or “tech fall” for short.
If a match is tied after seven minutes, it will go to a one-minute sudden victory period where the first wrestler to score wins.
Should no one score in sudden victory, we go to a pair of 30-second ultimate tiebreaker periods where each wrestler starts down once and if one wrestler outscores (or pins) the other in those periods they win.
If still tied, we get one more minute of sudden victory.
IF STILL TIED we go to two more 30-second periods and then if it’s not settled the match is determined by who has the most riding time.
As we talked about earlier, a dual meet is a regular season game/match.
Each team is comprised of 10 wrestlers with the weights as follows: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197 and 285.
Duals start at a mutually agreed upon weight more often than not, but if the coaches do not agree a random weight is selected.
Matches take place in ascending weight order.
If you win a match by decision (less than 8 points), your team receives 3 team points.
If you win a match by what’s called a major decision (8-14 points), your team receives 4 team points.
You can pick up 5 team points by recording a technical fall, which as we stated earlier was a 15-plus point win, and then a pin earns your team 6 points.
The team with the most points wins the dual. If the teams are tied, there are a number of tiebreaker criteria, but that’s a rabbit hole we’re not ready to dive down right now.
Penn State’s 2018-19 Lineup
As we discussed earlier, each team has 10 starters. Here’s a small breakdown of each weight heading into the season for the Nittany Lions.
125: Gavin Teasdale/Brody Teske/Devin Schnupp/Justin Lopez - The lowest weight may be the most intriguing for a lineup choice perspective. The Nittany Lions enter 2018-19 as national championship favorites. They’ve also got a pair of 125-pound true freshmen who are four-time state champions in Iowa’s Brody Teske and Gavin Teasdale. Both may start the season in redshirts but one may start if Penn State appears to need them. That determination will be made in practices and in certain tournaments are allow redshirting wrestlers to compete without losing their redshirt.
Should both stay in redshirt, the job will be occupied by either Devin Schnupp, who was thrust into action as a redshirt freshman last season but struggled as an undersized starter, or sophomore Justin Lopez who went 0-4 an a redshirt freshman in open tournaments a year ago.
133: Roman Bravo-Young - The picture appears crystal clear at 133 where you have yet another four-time state champion true freshman in Roman Bravo-Young of Arizona. Penn State doesn’t have the optionality at 133 that it does at 125 and the guy they call RBY is more than ready to go. Bravo-Young will probably take some lumps in what I think is the deepest weight in the country this year, but he’ll also get his fair share of wins as well.
141: Nick Lee - True sophomore Nick Lee took online classes his senior year of high school to move to State College and train with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club (on Penn State’s campus but not run by the university). That move paid off as he was an All-American last season as a true freshman, taking fifth at NCAAs (the top eight earn AA status). This year he should be a title contender in another good weight class.
149: Jarod Verkleeren/Brady Berge - A pair of redshirt freshman will fight for the spot vacated by three-time national champ and two-time Hodge Trophy (think Heisman) winner Zain Retherford. Both come in with plenty of hype. Verkleeren was a 2017 PA state champ who likely would’ve won in 2016 if not for a coaching/PIAA snafu that cost him a chance to wrestle in the state tournament. He went 9-2 last year at tournaments while redshirting. Berge is a three-time Minnesota state champion who got injured in semifinals while going for a fourth. He was 4-1 a year ago in tournament and won a bronze medal this summer at Junior World Championships while competing at 70 kilograms (154.4 pounds). The two will likely split time until January where they will, barring injury, both compete at the Southern Scuffle tournament and the higher placing wrestler will (probably) win the spot.
157: Jason Nolf - Not much to see here, just a redshirt senior who’s a two-time champion and three-time finalist who’s an overwhelming favorite this year to win another and compete for a Hodge Trophy.
165: Vincenzo Joseph - Our little meatball. Joseph is redshirt junior who won national championships in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, twice defeating two-time champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the finals. Cenzo will be the favorite this time around, but he’ll have a tough field of guys coming after him.
174: Mark Hall - Hall is very clearly the guy at 174 and enters the season ranked No. 2 in the country as a true junior. As a true freshman, Hall won a national title at this weight, while last year he finished as the runner-up to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia. In 2017, he narrowly defeated Valencia in the semifinals. Valencia enters the season as the favorite, but Hall isn’t far behind and the two appear to be on a tier of their own.
184: Shakur Rasheed - Rasheed is a redshirt senior who went from 165 pounds as a redshirt freshman to 174 pounds as a sophomore and then 197 pounds as a redshirt junior where he took seventh at the NCAA tournament a year ago and earned All-American status. He’s back down at 184 thanks to the guy we’ll talk about next.
197: Bo Nickal - Nickal, like Nolf, is a two-time champ and three-time finalist (who should be a three-time champion. Don’t wanna talk about it.) He finished second in 2016 at 174, bumped up to 184 and won NCAA championships and 2017 and 2018 and is now up at 197 pounds for his senior season.
285: Nick Nevills/Anthony Cassar - You wouldn’t think a redshirt senior who’s a two-time All-American and ranked No. 2 in the country would have to fight for his spot, but that’s where we’re at with Nick Nevills. Nevills has dealt with a slew of injuries during his career, one to his foot and two to his shoulder, all have ended in surgeries. The foot injury cost him almost all of his redshirt freshman season. As a redshirt sophomore he went 25-5 and took fifth in the country and a year ago he was 30-7 and took seventh, but suffered another shoulder injury in the NCAA tournament. He had surgery in the offseason and is just now getting back to full go in practice.
Cassar, meanwhile, has dealt with a number of shoulder injuries as well. He went 15-8 in open tournaments as true freshman in 2014-15. He then qualified for the Junior World Championships and injured his should during the tournament. He missed all of 2015-16 and then re-injured himself and missed all of 2016-17. Last year, he battled with Rasheed for the spot at 197, going 16-2 with a win over then No. 1-ranked Kollin Moore. Eventually, however, Rasheed won the job and with Nickal moving to 197, Cassar has bulked up and is trying to win the spot at heavyweight.