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Penn State Wrestling 2019-20 Preview

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The Nittany Lions return to the mat this month looking for yet another national championship.

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship Photo by Justin K. Aller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The boys are back in town.

That’s right, Penn State wrestling returns Nov. 10 as the Nittany Lions begin their quest for yet another NCAA Championship against the US Naval Academy.

Once again, myself, Cari, BScaff and JP will lead you through a season fraught with perils.

Penn State enters the season as the national title favorites, but the dastardly Iowa Hawkeyes are hot on its heels.

We’ll take you weight by weight and answer some roundtable questions as we preview the season to come.

125: Brody Teske

Teske was a four-time Iowa state champion in high school and a prized recruit, but a redshirt season a year ago should serve him very well. Teske was a smaller 126-pounderr as a senior and clearly needed the extra year in the weight room. He has great pace, but struggled on bottom last year and occasionally struggled to finish attacks.

The more seasoned version of Teske should be a fan favorite. Sure, he’s unlikely to be a force right away, but he’s a gutsy kid who is gonna go out there and get after it for seven minutes and has All-American potential as a freshman. Originally it seemed he’d have to battle Lehigh transfer Matty Parker for the spot, but Parker has since left the team and the sport.

133: Roman Bravo-Young

The man they called RBY electrified not just Penn State fans, but wrestling fans across the country with his acrobatics as a freshman. Don’t expect that to change a year later. Mid-way through the year it appeared that Bravo-Young may be a title contender and while that didn’t come to fruition, he finished the year with an impressive 25-7 record and an All-American finish in Pittsburgh.

With yet another year in a loaded room, don’t be surprised if Bravo-Young makes the jump and truly does become a title contender. To do so, he’ll have to improve on bottom and become a bit more varied with his attacks. But would anybody really bet against that happening? I know I would.

141: Nick Lee

This may be the now or never year for Nick Lee if he wants to win a national championship. After finishing fifth as a freshman in Cleveland, he repeated the performance in Pittsburgh, though a disappointing loss to Dom Demas of Oklahoma kept him out of the third-place match. This year, Lee enters as the favorite for many to win an NCAA title with both Yianni Diakomihalis and Jaydin Eierman taking Olympic Redshirt years.

Lee is the best wrestlers in the country outside of those two from neutral. While Demas is always dangerous with his inside trips and everything he can do off of that, Lee is the more versatile wrestle. If he can avoid self-inflicted mistakes that have plagued him in past NCAA Tournaments, Lee could well find himself as a national champion when the year ends.

149: Jarod Verkleeren

Jarod Verkleeren

Jarod unwittingly caused more than a few sports-media personalities and mess board insiders severe wailing, lamentation, and gnashing of teeth. The Hempfield native and Cadet World Gold medalist was a prized recruit in the 2017 class, with a boatload of offers. He originally committed to Iowa State, but the Cyclones released him after they canned the coach to whom he committed, Kevin Jackson. What ground everyone’s gears, though, was that Jarod turned down all remaining offers, and walked on at Dear Old State. World Golds don’t typically walk on to anything, so you can imagine the caterwauling. But he bet on himself to win a spot in the lineup for his home state team – and now he’s done it. You’re an idiot if you’re not cheering hard for Jarod.

How will he fare this season? We might have to wait a while. The way Penn State’s schedule sets up, Jarod gets only one pre-season top 20 wrestler before the New Year (fellow WPIAL product Josh Maruca at Arizona State), and won’t draw a returning All-American until Iowa’s Pat Lugo, on January 31st.

157: Brady Berge

Most wrestlers wait anxiously for months, or even years, to get a coveted BSD nickname. Bardy the Swedish Chef barely had to wait at all. After a freshman season spent in abject misery, dreaming of water fountains and swimming pools whilst feverishly trying to sweat himself to his 8th grade weight of 149lbs, The Chef gets to sip water this season, up at 157. Kyrie eleison. That’s a huge victory all by itself.

Unlike his teammate Jarod, The Chef won’t get to ease into the season. He’s likely to bump into Army’s vet Luke Weiland and/or Michigan’s redshirt phenom Will Lewan at the Black Knight Invitational. And then he draws three top 10-ish dudes in a row before January: ASU’s Jacori Teemer, Lehigh’s Josh Humphreys, and UPenn’s Anthony Artalona. After the ball drops in Times Square, the schedule really picks up steam.

165: Vincenzo Joseph

What does Our Little Meatball add to his game this year? When you look back at PSU’s greats, they generally add something new to their arsenals each season. Freshman Ed Ruth was a single leg guy. Then he cradled everyone. Then he added the cross wrist tilt. And finally, as a senior, he basically did whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it.

Cenzo’s a PSU great, and not coincidentally, he’s been following a similar path. First was the concrete hips and the now famous inside trip. Then he really got his righty high-c going as a soph. Last year he started cradling guys by mashing a cross face and slowly, painfully taking his opponent’s head to the knee. The bonus wins really started to pile up last season as well – which, in our opinion, was far-and-away his best season at PSU, despite the ending. Consequently, we’re excited to seen senior Meatball. Sure seems like it’ll be best Meatball.

174: Mark Hall

Not to kill the rest of this preview, but Baybee Marky’s going out with a national title. He’s too good, too consistent, too stout, and too well versed in just about every wrestling position you can get in. He can beat you on his feet. He has some of the best counter offense in the world. He gets away from everyone. And he can ride anyone. Fin.

Beyond that, though, his two old nemeses are gone. Zahid moved up to 184, and Myles Amine is taking a redshirt for San Marino. Marky will need to get past Anthony Valencia at ASU early, followed by (yet another) match with Lehigh’s Jordan Kutler. The end of January brings two PA products – Mikey Labriola (NEB) and Mikey Kemerer (Iowa, up from 157). It won’t be a cake walk. But Marky’s going out a champ.

184: Shakur Rasheed

Shakur Rasheed had a disappointing March in 2019, looking banged up in both season-ending tourneys and forfeiting out of the Big Tens before not making the podium in Pittsburgh. This year is his last in a PSU singlet and it’ll be his last opportunity to make All-American.

Rasheed has shown moments of absolute greatness, especially in 2018 in his sophomore season when he split time at 197 with Anthony Cassar. Last season, his first at a more natural 184, showed flashes of brilliance but also some tendencies to get into his own head a bit too much, and take himself off of the mat and out of the match. Here’s hoping he can work this out - I have great faith he’ll be able to make his senior season count, and make the podium. And if he can’t, Aaron Brooks will likely be more than ready to step in and take care of business (if he doesn’t take an olymic shirt).

197: Kyle Conel/Michael Beard

Count me among those who was overjoyed to see Kyle Conel transfer to the good guys this offseason. In 2018, the former Kent State Golden Flash was the non-PSUer that helped Penn State win the title (Gwiz 2.0, if you will), when this happened:

Conel was bounced from the main bracket soon after, and defeated Kollin Moore again to finish third. Last year, an early season injury meant the #2 Conel couldn’t face #1 Bo Nickal in the PSU-KSU dual, and then Conel transferred to State College in the offseason.

He’ll have a battle in the weight room as well as on the mat, as freshman Michael Beard will look to compete immediately at this weight as well. Beard went undefeated as a junior and senior in high school before coming to Penn State, after originally committing to Northwestern. He greyshirted last fall behind Nickal and was the presumed starter before Conel’s announced transfer, and by the end of the season, especially if the returning AAer can’t get back to his pre-injury form, Beard could make a splash and go far in the post season.

HWT: Anthony Cassar

Cassar is the surest thing the Nittany Lions have coming back this season, even in a weight that’s far from easy. Granted two additional years by the NCAA this offseason, Cassar is back after becoming a champion and defeating all-everything freshman Gable Steveson two times for two different titles.

Cassar is a super interesting wrestler, out performing his place against OSU in 2018 by beating Kollin Moore, and then actually being able to eat in 2019 when bumping up to heavyweight. This season, everyone’ll be gunning for Cassar as he’s no longer the underdog - but being able to train with the best in the world at his weight in Kyle Snyder will undoubtedly help his repeat chances.

In the extremely unlikely chance Penn State needs a backup at this weight, Nick Nevills’ brother Seth (aka Big Snacks) is in Happy Valley as a more traditional heavyweight. The younger Nevills was the #12 pound for pound wrestler in the 2018 class (just behind teammate Beard) and will be the wrestler of the future at this weight - no more Jan Johnsons needed, hopefully.

REDSHIRTS

This is an exciting year for multiple reasons. In addition to a likely amazing D1 team race, it’s an Olympic year, and there will be ample opportunity to watch all the wrestlers affiliated with the Penn State program, regardless of whether they’re using college eligibility this season or not. The Open Tourney circuit began in earnest this past weekend, and a couple of wrestlers from Penn State’s deep “bench” have already competed.

Check out WrestleStat’s Penn State Team Page for some excellently-organized data, like this eligibility chart:

Cael’s got more lower-weight forces coming in next year in Beau Bartlett & Robbie Howard, but check out all the firepower already on campus starting at 165!

With acknowledgement to the many workhorses that make up a top-tier D1 program’s quality room depth, let’s look at a few weights where Penn State possesses elite, future-AA depth.

149

While Jarod Verkleeren & Luke Gardner continue to battle in the room, FR Terrell Barraclough traveled up to the Clarion Open and showed out! He battled AA candidate Brock Zacherl to a tough 1-3 loss in the Semifinals then battled back for third place. Penn State fans might be familiar with the amount of points the young newb put up in the performance:

Well done! You can follow Barraclough’s season results using WrestleStat’s free & excellent wrestler profile page at: https://www.wrestlestat.com/wrestler/62900/barraclough-terrell/profile

165

Sophomore Mason Manville, who appeared in dual meet spot duty last year, far above his ideal weight class, is taking an Olympic Redshirt, he qualified for with his Greco-Roman results. As such, we’re not likely to see him competing in Folkstyle or Freestyle this year, but BSD will keep you posted when we might be able to watch him compete in GR.

But Nick Lee’s younger brother, Joe Lee is ready for you to get eyes on him now! He started this season with a bang: a pin, two Major Decisions, and a Clarion Open title.

174

Two-time PA State Champ Carter Starocci also began the 2020 season with a Clarion Open Championship, with two pins and a Major!

184

Lurking behind RSSR Shakur Rasheed is perhaps Cael’s most #elite not-yet-starter, Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a 4x Maryland Champ, but the part of Maryland that’s jusssst over the Mason Dixon line from my hometown of Waynesboro, so I’d like to reach across that Mason Dixon line to include Brooks as part of the highly-regarded #7174Lyfe movement & lifestyle.

Brooks was a Cadet World Champion in 2017 and a Junior World Silver Medalist in 2018. This past August, after a post-high-school year at the USA Wrestling Olympic Training Center, he struggled with a tough draw at the 2019 Junior World Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. Now on campus and training with the studs in Lorenzo, what might we see of the future star during this season’s tourney circuit?

197

Michael Beard is a close-second for me to Brooks on the Most Want to See list for this season, and this weekend, we got to! At the Clarion Open, he won two matches to reach the finals for a rematch with Clarion’s Greg Bulsak. Here’s bscaff’s scouting of that bout:

Beard dropped the final against Clarion’s returning qualifier Greg Bulsak. Beard seemingly looked to extend his margin of victory (Beard beat Bulsak 13-9 last year) this season and wrestled a dominant 1st period - but that 1st period was littered with almosts. First, Beard juuust missed a reattack near side cradle on Bulsak (the one Bo Nickal made famous last season), and had to settle for two. He came painfully close to two other takedowns in the initial stanza, but no cigar on those. He later landed a slide by for his second takedown, but the contortions he used to close the deal set him up for getting reversed (which he did, though Beard reversed Bulsak shortly after). Through all the twists and turns, and despite a dominant performance, Beard led just 6-5 at the end of one, with around 1:15 in RT.

After Bulsak escaped to tie the match in the 2nd period, Beard appeared to shoot Bulsak off the mat - but not quite. Bulsak circled back in bounds and scored an easy two on a bellied out Beard. And that’s when you could smell the upset coming. Bulsak used double boots to ride out the second, erase Beard’s riding time, and head to the 3rd period with an 8-6 lead, in spite of all the good Beard had worked in those 5 minutes. It was un-possible.

Beard chose down to start the 3rd period, and Bulsak managed to sink both boots. After a minute of sitting on Beard’s lower back, Bulsak got 2 swipes off of a power half for a 10-6 lead. Although Beard did get a reversal, it came too late. 11-8 final. Two areas for improvement - working free from boots, and maybe not being quite so stubborn (trying to ride, and choosing down), when you’re killing a guy from neutral.

285

The last of the big-time, big-name recruits (so far; recruiting is extremely fluid these days with the open transfer rules and Regional Training Center free agency), is Seth Nevills, aka Big Snacks. The “little” brother of 2x All-American Nick Nevills arrived in Happy Valley in the Summer of 2018 with that nickname already in tow. He, Beard and Joe Lee all joined Brooks in leveraging the NCAA clock-pause rule known as “Greyshirting” (when an athlete postpones the start of their clock by not enrolling in college until one year has passed from their HS graduation). But unlike Brooks, Nevills, Beard & Joe Lee have all been resident in State College and have been taking advantage of the Lorenzo workout partners for over a year now. I can’t wait to see what we’ve got in Big Snacks!

ROUNDTABLE

Most Important Wrestler:

Cari: Nick Lee. With the graduation of Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal, there’s a void in the points-scoring department headed into this season - at least on paper. Enter Nick Lee.

Last year, the NCAA semifinal between Lee and Joey McKenna felt more like a final (and really should have been, in this humble blogger’s opinion). This year, with McKenna graduated and a whole host of wrestlers redshirting, Lee’s got a decent shot at making a dent in this weight in March. If he can score the points we know he’s capable of, and make the Saturday night bout, this team could have the title locked up early again.

Clay: No Zahid Valencia. No Myles Amine. Mark Hall walks into his senior season as an overwhelming favorite to win a national title. He needs to perform like it. Penn State has always thrived thanks to big bonus points at the national tournament. Mark Hall will need to put up 25 points or more to help give the Nittany Lions an edge.

Jp: Anthony Cassar. In years where this Penn State Dynasty looks to be legitimately challenged (like the 2018 season, but unlike the 2019 season), the Lions more heavily rely on their returning individual Champs to defend against the attacks. In 2018, PSU relied on returning champions Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall & Bo Nickal, to rip the hearts out of the mighty, swarming, empowered & hopeful Ohio State Buckeyes.

This year, the proud Hawkeyes of Iowa represent that Legitimate Dynasty Challenge, and Penn State will need to rely on its returning champs to provide the big boy points once again. I chose Antknee because of the quality of the field in his weight class. New Nittany Lion Wrestling Club member and 5x World Medalist Kyle Snyder created the modern Heavyweight blueprint of the active ~230 pound monsters, and there are a ton of young studs looking to steal Cassar’s model of Snyder implementation. Anthony’s double-leg offense must continue if the Lions hope to make it 9 out the last 10 team titles.

Breakout Star:

Cari: Roman Bravo-Young. It’s arguable that RBY was last year’s breakout star, with his acrobatic moves and an upset victory (complete with a questionable docked point) last year in Columbus. But this year, in a weight stocked with talent but a lot of redshirts, he could make hay. 133 should be Seth Gross’s to lose coming back from injury and switching to the Big Ten, but if he’s not back to his 2017 glory, the young Arizonan could go far this season.

Clay: Brady Berge is very good. I’m not quite sure the Penn State fan bases realizes just how good. Berge has been plagued with injuries of late and last year was sucking a lot of weight to make 149, which not only hurt his gas tank but also his strength and his greatest asset, which is his quickness.

This year Berge takes over for Jason Nolf at 157 and after making the U23 world team is my candidate for breakout stardom. He’s recovering from an ugly head injury suffered at U23 worlds and will have to make the descent from 74 kilos (163.3 lbs), so he may not come around until a bit later in the season, but Brady Berge is one to watch.

Jp: I love both of my colleagues picks, and can’t wait to watch both RBY & Chef Bardy, but I’ll go with Jarod Verkleeren. First, I love his story: Cadet World Champ, bowed out of Cael’s alma mater Iowa State during a messy coaching change in 2017, walked on at PSU, and patiently waited for his 3rd year in the program to hit the starting lineup. Which is now. I especially love that that story now includes possibly NOT making the starting lineup because of an internal challenge from JR Luke Gardner. Mess Board BWI has the background goss on that wrestle-off here.

Biggest Dual:

Cari: January 31 at Iowa. Ohio State’s lost too much to be a real threat this season, but Iowa’s reloaded well. Wrestling in Carver Hawkeye is tough, and there’s no Bo to deck Sammy Brooks in 20 seconds this year.

Clay: Cari nailed it. Penn State’s trip to Carver in late January could be dangerous for the dual win streak.

Jp: It’s difficult & expensive to get from Northern Virginia to Iowa City. The weekend of the PSU vs Iowa dual in Carver, neither Iowa State or Northern Iowa host home duals. Which means a trip to the Iowan winter hinterlands would yield but one wrestling event for a wrestling-hungry traveler.

But it’ll be so dang good, I might still bite the travel bullet, pull the trigger & shoot my shot all the way to Hawkeye land to watch. Who’s with me?

Wrestler from another team you’re most interested in:

Cari: Seth Gross, Wisconsin. Gross has been through a lot in his wrestling career, from starting off in Iowa to winning a title at South Dakota State, then his injury-forced year off last season and transfer to Madison. Will he be able to repeat coming back from injury and with a new coaching staff? This is one to watch.

Clay: Jacori Teemer, Arizona State. It came down to Teemer or Sammy Sasso at Ohio State, but I just couldn’t pick a Buckeye. Teemer is a Long Island product who headed west and blew up from 132 in high school to 157 this year. He’s a fantastic athlete and incredibly crafty on his feet. With 157 wide open on the national scene, could Teemer be a surprise champ for the Sun Devils?

Jp: Yeah, I’m going down Clay’s path and picking a newb. One thing we’ve learned (and Penn State Wrestlers have helped teach us during this dynastic dominance) is that the youngsters come into D1 ready to freakin scrap. That old mess board saw of poo-pooing the newcomers based on newcomerness alone are tired and quickly get called out (step up your game, mess boarders)! I also like Clay’s look at Arizona State, because Coach Zeke Jones has joined Cael & Tom Ryan at the top of the list of elite recruit hoarding.

But I’m going with a Buckeye, and it’s Sammy freakin Sasso. Dude placed 4th at The Midlands as a TRFR last year, dominated at the MSU Open this weekend, and looks poised to terrorize a brand-new field at 149. I can’t wait to watch my PSU Breakout Star battle my Wrestler From Another Team I’m Most Interested In!

Will Penn State’s dual streak survive?

Cari: LOL yes.

Clay: I think the Nittany Lions may be in some serious trouble here. While I think they win out in a tournament setting, the dual matchup with Iowa is not a good one for them. It’s even worse when you factor in an amped up Carver. Penn State will likely need an upset victory somewhere in that dual. But hey, we saw what happened in Columbus last year.

Jp: Streak Number Reminders:

With the firepower returning to Penn State’s lineup, and its largely B1G-mandated schedule, there are three possible interruptions to its current streak:

  • A trip to Arizona State, early-season, when Berge might not yet be ready to weigh-in at 157, for young phenom Jacori Teemer. And the Verk-Gardner situation might not yet have been settled, for veteran Pennsylvania Josh Maruca
  • The big battle against the Hawkeyes in late January
  • Mid-February at home against the Buckeyes, who will be much more seasoned and will have many answers to their current lineup questions by then

I’m picking these Lions to channel their inner Bo Nickal, do what they say that’s what they do, and finish the dual season with a new 73-match winning streak.

B1G/NCAA Predictions

Cari: Penn State wins both, and Iowa places second at the Big Tens but not the NCAAs.

Clay: I like the Nittany Lions at both places, but I’m certainly worried. If the Hawkeyes can get big NCAA performances from Michael Kemerer and Anthony Cassioppi, things begin to get very interesting.

Jp: This season’s version of this Cael Dynasty has a lot of one thing that has been missing from other iterations: lineup breadth. There’s plenty of depth, behind the “starters”, which we’ll get to in a moment, but across 10 weights, this could be Cael’s broadest quality lineup yet. The most AA’s PSU has posted in this era has been 8, in 2018. And PSU hasn’t reached the podium at 125 since Nico Megaludis’ title in 2016. With 4x Iowa State Champ Brody Teske set to take the reigns (Ed. note: Soooo, apparently this may not be happening) after a year in the vaunted Lorenzo Wrestling Room, could a return to lower weight glory come this year, in the form of an AA placement?

We’ll see, but this lineup has both top-end firepower, and wide, 10-weight breadth. That’s a recipe for not only familiar dominance at the team-diluted National Tournament, but also at the trimmed-down, limited field at the Big Ten Conference Tourney.

I’ll take Penn State at both.