Penn State Wrestling released their 2018-2019 roster and confirmed a few offseason rumors on Wednesday.
Let’s take a quick look at each weight...
Elite recruit and incoming 4x Arizona State Champ Bravo-Young is expected to man this weight this year as a True Freshman.
Returning 5th-place All-American Nick Lee looks set to start for Penn State at this weight again this year.
You can see a bunch of guys have been eagerly biding their time until 3x National Champion Zain Retherford expired his eligibility. This year’s battle will likely be between elite recruits Verkleeren and Berge.
In most situations, we could preface a presumed starter with something like “barring injury,” but Jason Nolf sustained a knee injury in the second semester last year and still won his second National Championship, so we could skip such a formality this year. Bo Pipher, a part-time starter during injury last year, remains ready to sub in for Nolf again if needed.
Presumed Starter: one of only a handful of great Penn State wrestlers who are capable of matching Coach Cael’s four National Championships, Vincenzo Joseph.
2x Finalist and 1x Champ Hall is likely to start again. Fans may be interested to see if or when Cael might use former elite recruit Mason Manville in spot duty.
Here’s where things get interesting. You may recall Rasheed as a starter at 165 during the 2016 season. It didn’t last, as he couldn’t continue the weight cut and Geno Morelli represented PSU in the postseason. You may also recall Bo Nickal’s two National Championships at this weight, in the 2017 and 2018 postseasons. You may additionally recall that Rasheed successfully bumped up past 174, past 184 and knocked off Anthony Cassar to earn the right to earn an All-American 7th place at 197 pounds in 2018. This season, we find Rasheed cutting back down to 184, where he is the presumed starter.
Rumors had been circulating this Summer of a possible Nickal move up, and this roster release appears to confirm it. Nickal’s move is likely all about the 2020 Olympics, and the new same-day weigh-in rules for international Freestyle competition. Retherford went on record this summer citing the need to change his body as reason for not competing in the Freestyle season.
If Nickal’s eyeing up representing the US in Tokyo, he’s looking at either cutting to 74kg/163lbs Burroughs or Dake (nah), ballooning to 97kg/213lbs Captain America (I’ll never LOL at Nickal, but ...) or reshaping his body to a full-size 86kg/190lbs and taking on David Taylor, which seems the best fit, right? Depending on USAW calendar tweaks, he needs to be ready with whatever plan in April-May of 2020, almost exactly 1 year after his last NCAAs. Sure, he could do all that then, from March 2019 to March 2020, but why do that after a year of cutting to 184lbs? There’s no 2019 Freestyle Season incentive, either, since the weight class for the non-Oly years nearest to 86kg/190lbs is 79kg/174lbs, an even bigger dumber cut he didn’t even want for college in the 2017 season! Why not start now, stop cutting to 184, try to grow into/above 190, get a jump on wrestling bigger bodies who make weight at 197 during this last college season? And then even give a go at Taylor in April-May 2019?
So, here we are. Bo Nickal’s preparing to wrestle even bigger bodies and doing so this year!
The last time we saw Nick Nevills, he was winning his 7th place All-American match on Saturday morning in Cleveland—and his shoulder was heavily bandaged. I haven’t read anywhere that confirms if Nevills did or did not get his shoulder surgically repaired, but either way, we can guess he’s returning from injury.
Given that, and given Nickal’s bump to 197, Anthony Cassar had the same choice that Rasheed did (and the same choice Matt McCutcheon had in 2016-2017 when Nickal first bumped to 184 from 174): stay at the same weight and try to best Nickal in a wrestle-off, or look for options elsewhere. We can probably just as accurately guess that Cassar has better intel on Nevills’ injury than we do, so seeing his new weight posted as 285 shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
We’ve heard through the grapevine that Cael & staff would much prefer to field their likely starting March lineup in their early duals beginning in November (a luxury they weren’t afforded last Fall), but this battle seems likely to be postponed until second semester, depending on Nevills’ injury recovery. When it does eventually happen (I won’t be surprised to see Cassar starting here in November duals), it’ll be a very interesting style & size matchup, with Nevills (250-260lbs) likely weighing 20-30lbs more than Cassar (likely 220-230lbs).
Penn State, already favored to win a fourth team title in a row due to its returning point-scorers, has shifted a few of its All-Americans around to different weight classes. The end result? We still have plenty of time to prognosticate (and will do so here!), but there remains a ton of potential scoring available.
At whichever weight a Penn State starter competes.