Whenever wrestling season begins, I start singing out loud (and in my head) to myself.
Not the Christmas parts, necessarily, but just the refrain - for certain, it is the most wonderful time of the year - it’s time for Penn State wrestling!
This year, the Nittany Lions kick off the season playing host to the Kent State Golden Flashes. This isn’t as sexy an out of conference matchup as December opponent Arizona State, but preseason many (yours truly included) were super excited for this dual, especially if Bo Nickal bumped up to face Kyle Conel. Spoiler alert: he did.
That’s not the only story line that I’ve been looking forward to delving into this week; despite the fact that they’re an overwhelming favorite to four-peat as NCAA champions (barring an epic collapse, it’s gonna happen), there are question marks in the lineup. How will Cael’s squad replace the irreplaceable Zain Retherford? Who will get the green light, eventually, at last season’s biggest hole - 125? And will the new starters make an impact and help the Nittany Lions win their first Big Ten Tournament Championship since 2016?
We’ll start getting the answers to these questions on Sunday - and I can’t wait.
How To Watch
What: #1 Penn State vs Kent State
Where: Rec Hall, University Park, PA
When: Sunday, November 11, 2 pm
Audio: Free, Jeff “Ironhead” Byers, via GoPSUSports
Video: FloWrestling (subscription only)
Cael’s not going to tear the redshirt off of Gavin Teasdale or Brody Teske until he thinks they’re ready to compete; right now, last year’s starter prior to Carson Kuhn’s eligibility gets the nod. And I think he gets one and proves Cael’s confidence isn’t unfounded.
Prediction: Schnupp by Decision
Score: PSU 3, KSU 0
One of the things I do when writing these previews when I’m not super familiar with the opponents is go to wrestlestat; it gives me an ostensibly neutral opinion, by the numbers, of what the matchup may look like.
This is what I got with this matchup:
I literally started laughing out loud at that — Rooney’s not bad, but this is RBY, half of our staff’s pick for the wrestler they’re looking forward to the most. With how Cael’s talked him up so far, I feel like I’m being conservative in predicting only one bonus. But, alas...it’s his first match in the big leagues, and I think Rooney will do just enough to avoid a tech - or a pin.
Prediction: RBY by Major Decision
Score: PSU 7, KSU 0
Lee navigated a super tough weight class last year, thrust into the lineup after Jered Cortez’s season-ending injury - and all he did was become a true freshman all-American, NBD. He’s gunning to improve this year, and should be closer to the top of this still-difficult weight.
Prediction: Lee by Tech Fall
Score: PSU 12, KSU 0
Miss you Zain.
But how exciting it’ll be to see some new hammers at this weight! Both options are very viable (this weight room is an embarrassment of riches, of course), and I’m looking forward to seeing how both step into Zain’s painful shoes. But Verkleeren will get the start here and gets bonus, imo.
Prediction: Verkleeren by Major Decision
Score: PSU 16, KSU 0
...and here’s where the real fun begins.
We haven’t seen a healthy Nolf take the mat since January, and all he did in the meantime is repeat as an NCAA champion. Now that he’s had corrective surgery, we’ll see how close he is back to where he needs to be - and my money’s on better than ever. Monico’s one of Kent State’s better wrestlers, but come on. This is Jason Nolf, and he’s gunning for a Hodge.
Prediction: Nolf by Pin
Score: PSU 22, KSU 0
Our little meatball has quietly become one of the best wrestlers in the nation - and, knock on wood, seems poised to be Penn State’s first ever four-time title winner. He’ll have to navigate an again-super-tough weight class, but with IMar gone (having been completely dominated by Joseph for the second final in a row), this one will be Cenzo’s. The question is whether the other very good wrestlers in the conference at 165 will be able to compete.
Prediction: Cenzo by Tech Fall
Score: PSU 27, KSU 0
The last time these two wrestlers met was prior to Hall’s redshirt being pulled, in the Southern Scuffle of 2016 (aka Mark Hall’s coming out party). I have no reason to believe this year will be any closer, with Hall dominating almost every opponent not named Jordan (well, his first season at least) or Valencia.
Prediction: Hall by Pin
Score: PSU 33, KSU 0
There’s a lot of story lines that came out of Penn State wrestling’s run to the 2018 national title, but my favorite just might be the emergence of Shakur Rasheed being a dominant, and exciting, surprise in the lineup. Without Rasheed’s contributions, the Lions don’t win the title; and he’s at more of a natural weight this year with Nickal bumping up, so look for him to get on top of McNally quickly. I’d be very, very surprised if this lasts the full seven.
Prediction: Sheed by Tech Fall
Score: PSU 38, KSU 0
Match of the Meet - maybe?
Kyle Conel was one of the best stories out of the NCAA tournament last year; he came out of nowhere to pin title-favorite Kollin Moore - and then beat him again in wrestlebacks to claim 3rd place. Since both Jared Haught and Michael Macchiavello (last year’s finalists) out of eligibility, Conel could have easily entered this season as a favorite to win the weight class - but then Bo Nickal bumped up a weight.
Poor Kyle, who’s genuinely awesome and I wish well. He re-aggravated and injury earlier this week, so looks like he won’t be at 100% to go here - and if I were the KSU coaches, I’d just sit him. No need to mess with the psyche of your star by putting him out against arguably the best wrestler in the nation. Bo should face the backup, and should have the fastest match of the afternoon.
Prediction: Bo by Pin
Score: PSU 44, KSU 0
Now that Bo’s entrenched at 197, Anthony Cassar had no choice but go up to heavy if he wanted to see time on the mat. He’s purportedly gained almost 30 pounds since he surprisingly beat Kollin Moore to win the Ohio State dual for PSU last year, and he’s competing with Nevills for the starting spot. Nevills, despite being a favorite to repeat as an All-American, will probably watch this week as Cassar shows what he can do. Will it matter? Nah.
Prediction: Cassar by Decision