We should really all know better by now.
The fact that anybody, myself included, is surprised by what the Penn State wrestling team did this weekend, particularly from Friday on, could be considered by insulting by some. Like being surprised that a fish can swim, or that a bear shits in the woods.
“That’s what we do,” as Bo Nickal so succinctly put it.
In the era of Cael Sanderson, winning team titles is what Penn State does.
Saturday’s victory, capped by a miraculous moment from the aforementioned Mr. Nickal, was Penn State’s seventh in the last eight seasons and seventh in nine year under Sanderson.
That record includes four straight wins from 2011-2014 and now three straight from 2016-2018.
Over the last eight seasons, Penn State has combined for 962 points. The eight second-place teams in that span have combined to score 856.5. That’s a margin of over 100 points to the field, for you math wizards out there. This includes a year where Penn State only finished sixth with 67.5 points.
So again, why did any of us have any doubts or concerns?
Going into Friday night, Penn State trailed the Buckeyes by 13.5 points with one less wrestler alive in the semifinals.
The Nittany Lions went five for five on the front side in the session, while Ohio State went just 2-4.
“That’s what we do.”
Penn State has now won a mind-numbing 16 consecutive NCAA Tournament semifinals matches, with five in 2018, five in 2017, five in 2016 and one more in 2015.
The last loss a Penn State wrestler took in the semifinals was Jimmy Gulibon back in 2015 at 133 pounds, who lost to eventual runner-up Cory Clark of Iowa by a 7-5 scoreline.
In the eight-year span we mentioned earlier, Penn State has accounted for a ridiculous 20 of the 80 individual national champions. Again, for all you mathematicians, that’s an unbelievable 25 percent!
After the graduation of David Taylor of Ed Ruth, who combined for five national titles and averaged 24.7 team points over their NCAA Tournament careers, Penn State fans were told that the fun was over. Nobody would come close to that type of production.
Then came Zain Retherford. All Retherford did over his career was become a four-time All-American, win three national titles and average 23.25 team points per tournament.
But we can’t forget about the guys still doing their things in the blue and white.
Nickal, after suffering a heartbreak loss to Myles Martin in the 2016 finals, has now won two straight NCAA championships, is a three-time All-American and is averaging a whopping 22.8 points per tournament.
How about one Jason Nolf, who suffered a similar fate in 2016 at the hands of Isaiah Martinez? Nolf has matched Nickal, becoming a two-time champ and three-time All-American as well and is averaging 24 points per tournament, higher than anyone other than Retherford in that span.
Lastly, it would be insulting not to include Vincenzo Joseph in this discussion. Joseph, a highly touted recruit out of Pittsburgh Central Catholic high school, has exceeded even the wildest expectations over his first two seasons. The 165-pounder affectionately known as Our Little Meatball is halfway to become a four-time national champion, twice knocking off the aforementioned Martinez in the finals and averaging 22 points per tournament.
Surely this run has to come to a stop soon, right?
What happens Nolf and Nickal graduate in 2019? Hall and Joseph in 2020?
Well, lets take a look at what the Nittany Lions have coming down the pipe.
We’ll start with those wrestlers already on the team.
True freshman Nick Lee had his redshirt removed in January and after losing in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the tournament to Ryan Diehl of Maryland, wrestled all the way back for five, picking up big bonus in the process and scoring 11.5 team points. Lee’s non-stop pressure on his feet is similar to some of the greats we mentioned above and a certain Mr. Retherford took fifth in his true freshman campaign before going on to be the unstoppable force he is today.
Freshman Jarod Verkleeren went 9-2 in his redshirt season, with his only two losses coming narrowly to NCAA qualifiers Jared Prince and Max Thomsen at the Southern Scuffle. Verkleeren is a Cadet World Champion and a PIAA champion and figures to slot in the lineup next season at 149 pounds.
Brady Berge, also a freshman, went 4-1 in his redshirt season, losing only to NCAA qualifier Mike D’Angelo. Berge is a three-time Minnesota state champion whose only high school loss came via injury default in the state semifinals. Berge figures to slot in at 157 following the departure of Nolf.
Mason Manville is an interesting case at 165 pounds. The former cadet world champion deferred his enrollment for a year and focused solely on training Greco-Roman at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Manville went 3-2 this season while redshirting, losing to All-American Jon Jay Chavez and NCAA qualifier Jonathan Viruet. For many, Manville is wildcard in how Penn State projects in the future.
Nick isn’t the only Lee brother on the Penn State team. Okay, well, he is currently, but who cares about semantics? Younger brother Joe Lee finished his last year of high school online while training and competing for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Lee went 4-1 on the year with a loss to redshirting Jesse DellaVecchia of Rider.
In addition to the above, the Nittany Lions are set to add the countries consensus No. 1 recruiting class including Aaron Brooks of Maryland, Seth Nevills of California, Michael Beard and Gavin Teasdale of Pennsylvania, Roman Bravo-Young of Arizona and Brody Teske of Iowa.
That group has enough state championships to fill up your two-car garage.
The fun never stops for Penn State wrestling and fans shouldn’t expect it to do so anytime soon, because as Nickal so eloquently said, “that’s what we do.”