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Wrestling Postview: #1 Penn State Defeats Illinois, 39-9.

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Penn State continued to sharpen their post-season swords by winning 8 of 10 bouts and mauling the overmatched Illini.

Nittany Lions celebrate the 2016 National Championship, the first in their current streak of 3 in a row.
JP Pearson

After losing three bouts in an otherwise solid thumping of Michigan State on Friday, February 15, the Lions traveled from State College to Champagne, Illinois, and returned to typical dual meet form in winning 8 of 10 bouts.

Against the over-matched Illini, the story of today was readying the ship for the postseason. Shakur Rasheed continued to rest his injured knee, Brady Berge competed for the first time in a few weeks, while everybody else honed the diversification of their Bonus Point arsenals.

Also, Scotty Stossel won the Ernie Lucas Award for outstanding wrestler in an away meet, for his come-from-behind victory, in what was likely his last competition in a Penn State singlet.

Coaching Staff Comparison

Penn State and Illinois coaching staffs’ performances at Nationals, when they competed as wrestlers.

I’m always interested in coaching staffs and how they competed when they were active wrestlers and I hadn’t done one of these since the Wiscy recap, so I dug in for a little bracket review.

I was surprised to learn that Heffernan and Hunter both arrived at Illinois at the same time, and that this is only their 9th season there. Heffernan was a cornerstone of those tough mid-eighties Gable squads, and Penn Staters should be pretty familiar with Hunter.

Digging into the brackets, Cody & Hunter were on a path to meet in the 1997 118 Consolation Quarterfinals, and in the 1998 118 Championship Semifinals, but results didn’t allow it. Then in 1998, Cody bumped up to 133.

This is Mike Poeta’s first year on the Illinois staff. He was a stud for Illinois at the end of the last decade, and is almost always found on lists of greatest wrestlers who have never won a championship. He lost to AA’s Travis Paulson and Dan Thompson his freshman year. His sophomore year, he lost once, to eventual Champ Trent Paulson, 4-0. And his last two years he lost in the Finals: 5-4 to Cornell’s Jordan Leen, and 5-1 to Jordan Burroughs.

Noteworthy Achievements in Today’s Result

  • Wisconsin (4), Purdue, Ohio State & Michigan State (3) are the only teams to have won more than two bouts against the Lions this year, but the Illini were unable to join them.
  • Penn State won the takedown advantage 26-5.
  • Archery Season was open and in full effect, as Berge, Nolf, Cenzo & Nickal each employed the Zain Retherford-flavored and extremely painful top-riding device.
  • PSU finishes the 2019 Big Ten Dual Meet season 9-0 and with their 4th straight Big Ten Dual Meet Championship (which they will probably have to share with Iowa, who did not wrestle Penn State, Ohio State or Michigan in this year’s wac B1G schedule. Thanks, Delaneybot!).
  • PSU under Cael Sanderson is now 139-14-2 in Dual Meets and 74-10-1 in Big Ten Dual Meets.
  • Penn State’s Conference Dual Meet winning streak is now at 36. Penn State hasn’t lost a conference dual since an 18-12 defeat to Iowa at the Bryce Jordan Center, on February 8, 2015.
  • Penn State’s overall Dual Meet winning streak is now at 58. Penn State hasn’t lost any dual meet since a 21-18 defeat to Oklahoma State, in Stillwater, on February 15, 2015.
  • Speaking of the Cowboys, they own the record for longest Dual Meet Winning Streak at 76, which began March 5, 1937 and ended January 19, 1951 with a loss to Oklahoma.
  • Additionally, Iowa owns the record for longest Dual Meet Unbeaten Streak, at 84. Would you be surprised to know that this streak was under Tom Brands and not Dan Gable? This streak began after a 19-15 loss to Oklahoma State on January 5, 2008, and continued as both a Winning AND Unbeaten streak until a 15-15 tie with OkSt on January 16, 2011 ended the Winning Streak at 69. From there, it continued as an Unbeaten Streak, until Oklahoma State again ended it, with a 17-16 victory on January 8, 2012, via the then-newly-introduced tiebreaker criteria rules.

Streak Summaries:

  1. 84: Iowa’s Unbeaten Streak (includes a Tie, at Meet #69)
  2. 76: OkSt’s Winning Streak
  3. 69 Nice: Iowa’s Winning Streak
  4. 58: PSU Current Streak

125 #12 Travis Piotrowski WBF Devin Schnupp (1:03); Illinois 6-0.

Period One

  • Piotrowski TD, heavy riding
  • Cradle, then pin

Schnupp’s trademark third-period gas tank didn’t have a chance to show itself, as Piotrowski showed why he’s an All-American candidate in Pittsburgh next month.

133 Scott Stossel DEC Josh Contreras, 6-4; Illinois 6-3.

Roman Bravo-Young was out of action this weekend, for a funeral in Arizona.

Period One

  • No action
  • Late shot by Stossel, countered, go-behind for Contreras TD

Period Two

  • Contreras pretty quick escape
  • Head inside single by Contreras, but heavy hips forced a stalemate
  • Contreras shot, Stossel scrambled around himself for his first TD
  • Legs in, rode hard, couldn’t quite turn

Period Three, 3-2 Contreras

  • Stossel chose down, quick escape
  • Contreras shot, Stossel again scrambled for his own TD!
  • Legs again, lots of funky mat wrestling, worked for split scissors, but again couldn’t turn
  • Contreras shot, but heavy Stossel hips to end the bout

In probably his last PSU appearance, Scotty Stossel earned his first dual meet victory!

What a way to finish his career!

141 #2 Nick Lee TF Abdullah Assaf 17-2 (3:48); PSU 8-6.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

#5 Mike Carr didn’t wrestle against Northwestern on Friday, 2/15, either.

Period One

  • Lee single to left leg for TD1
  • Snap down for TD2, big turn, 4NF
  • Heavy ride, wrist control, turn for 2NF

Period Two

  • Cut him, then double leg for TD3
  • Couple of cradles, lots of NF
  • 3:48 the bout ends

It was a bummer to miss out seeing Nick Lee against Carr (story of this season, huh?), but it’s been a treat watching Lee this month. He looks extremely ready for the postseason, and like a strong candidate to be wrestling in the Semifinals on Friday night in Pittsburgh.

And we know how well Penn State wrestles in the Semifinals.

149 #11 Brady Berge MD Christian Kanzler, 15-4; PSU 12-6.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

Kanzler was a 2018 Junior College National Finalist at Lincoln College, but, in a decent showcase for the difference in difficulty levels between JuCo and D1, he’s only 2-12 on the year.

Period One

  • Single for TD1
  • Lots of riding, then cut him
  • Ankle pick, tried to drag him in bounds, but stalemate called
  • Late dive at the ankles, got TD2

Period Two

  • Kanzler chose down
  • Worked a bow and arrow, got under the chin and the turn for 4NF
  • Minimal Berge resistance on Kanzler escape
  • Kantzler shot, heavy Berge hips to stalemate

Period Three, 8-2

  • Berge chose down
  • Stood a few times, but got mat-returned
  • Stall warn + point
  • Escape, quick single and far ankle grab, for TD3, cut him
  • Nice shot on left leg, for TD4
  • Tried for bow and arrow again, but big fight from Kanzler!
  • Kanzler got the escape and fought hard against another TD
  • Berge 1:17 in riding time

Byers was pretty tepid in his assessment. Not sure we can guess what Cael may have taken away.

For my part, the points were there, and from a variety of scoring mechanisms. And the gas tank looked live, for a guy rumored to be struggling with a weight cut.

What did you guys see and think?

157 #1 Jason Nolf INJ DEF (5:25) #10 Eric Barone; PSU 18-6.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

Period One

  • Single on left leg, raised it, long fight from Barone, finally a sweep and trip for TD1
  • Scramble resulted in Barone escape
  • Nolf with tight front headlock, tried to finish with an ankle pick, but ran out of space
  • Left leg single, finished with the far ankle on the edge of the mat
  • Great fight from Barone!

Period Two

  • Nolf down
  • To his feet, but big return from Barone
  • After much contest, a Nolf escape
  • Barone shot, Nolf countered with front headlock again
  • Heavy head snap with ankle pick for TD2, Barone yelped, and took injury time
  • Lots of limping, didn’t look good
  • Heffernan & Hunter in heavy deliberation about whether to continue, decided to
  • Nolf chose down
  • Nolf standing but Barone with big mat returns
  • Love this kid’s attitude
  • Nolf escape
  • Snap down and go behind for TD3

Period Three, 12-1

  • Barone chose down
  • Nolf worked a bow & arrow on injured left knee, Barone yelped again, coaches called it

Man, I would love to hear from Jason Nolf on his decision to work the bow and arrow on that injured left knee! Such debates typically involve these takery poles:

  1. Injured bro is out there to compete; he and his coaches both decided he was fit enough to compete. As such, all wrestling moves are fair game. As Terry Brands quipped at Midlands: “wrestling’s a tough sport, guys!”
  2. Nolf was winning 12-1. It’s highly likely, if not probable, that he could have tech’d or pinned him, without cranking on the injured knee. Why not leave it alone?

I think I’m in Camp 2.

Hit us up: where do yinz hard-asses land in that debate?

165 #1 Vincenzo Joseph MD Nick Gasbarro 15-4; PSU 22-6

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

Period One

  • Slick head outside single for TD1
  • Hilarious TD2 via a one-armed lefty under hook, just hipped all the way through the whizzer and stepped over
  • Heavy head and shoulders work
  • Dropped to a beautiful double-leg for TD3

Period Two

  • Cut him, Gasbarro shot, but Cenzo hips, to stalemate
  • Head outside single to double, for TD4
  • Bow and arrow again, but no turn
  • Nearly locked up a cradle, but time ran out

Period Three

  • Cenzo chose down, quick stand & double leg for reversal
  • Stall warning 2, point to Cenzo
  • Cut him
  • Quick go behind for TD5
  • Tried a cement mixer, couldn't turn
  • Worked hard for a cradle
  • Bow & arrow!
  • Cenzo visibly frustrated and gesticulating to the air
  • Stall warn 3 / point 2
  • 4:37 in riding time

While I kind of lean toward wishing Nolf would not have cranked the bow and arrow on his guy, I’m the opposite here. I thought a turn was still available, but it looked like Cenzo bailed from the leg crank a little early.

Healthy Knee? Crank that sumbitch!

174 #1 Mark Hall WBF Carver James (2:20); PSU 28-6.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

In further illustration of D1 difficulty, Carter James was a 3x Illinois State Champ, but is 14-17 in his career at Illinois.

Period One

  • TD1
  • Wrist control and tilt, for 2NF
  • Worked hard for a far side cradle
  • Arm bar, for turn and the pin, at 2:20

I read an interesting theory this weekend on Hall, which I would link to if I could recall the source (holla below if you can cite it). It stipulated that Marky has been focusing on NOT putting certain things on tape, such that they might be scouted.

That’s some high-level subterfuge that Cael would only wryly grin at if posed to him, probably with a corresponding quip about not wanting to divulge secrets, but I also kind of buy it. This squad is developing ridiculous arrays of scoring diversity, and we know they all do film review on their own opponents, usually with Casey. “We know” means I think I heard it once or twice in post-meet Byers interviews.

This bout gives a bit of credence to such a theory, as it was about as fundamentally basic of a pin as you’ll see this year.

184 #7 Emery Parker DEC Mason Manville 7-3; PSU 28-9.

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Wrestling Trials - Day 2 Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This was Manville’s fourth time against a Top-15-ranked opponent. It was his third time at 184, and he weighed in today at 171.1. Only Myles Martin has been able to put up Bonus Points on him.

Period One

  • Manville heavy hand and arm fighting in neutral
  • Half-shot on the edge, but no space to finish
  • Byers: “He IS a worker. Just no fear. Longterm, this is going to pay big dividends.”

Period Two

  • Parker chose down, quick escape
  • Double under hooks by Parker, Manville nearly flips him, but Parker slips behind for TD1
  • Parker cut him
  • Parker duck under for TD2
  • Manville escape
  • Manville shot, heavy Parker hips, Manville bails

Period Three, 5-2

  • Manville chose down, escaped
  • Manville always in center mat!
  • Traded shots, but nothing deep enough to finish
  • Manville sloppy final shot, Parker scrambled behind for TD3, sealing the deal

Local punditry estimates that Manville will take an Olympic Redshirt next year (he has already qualified via his 2018 Greco-Roman World Team membership), meaning he could come back to the squad and be a player in the 2021 PSU lineup considerations, as a redshirt Sophomore.

My man could conceivably contribute heavily to Penn State breaking Oklahoma State’s 76-meet dual win streak and to Cael’s 10th, 11th & 12th team titles, in 2022, 2023 & 2024!

197 #1 Bo Nickal TF Matt Wroblewski 19-3 (6:49); PSU 33-9.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

Period One

  • Single for TD1
  • Wroblewski escape
  • Sloppy shot by Wroblewski, Nickal counter for TD2
  • Byers: 58-1 TD ratio for Nickal in Dual Meets this year
  • Pinched the arm in a tilt, but Wroblewski pulled the arm free
  • Bow and arrow

Period Two

  • Wroblewski chose neutral
  • Double for TD3, lefty under hook + far knee hook
  • Tried the hand-on-head cut, followed by the cradle pounce, but no dice
  • Sick / slick duck under for TD4

Period Three

  • Nickal chose down, quick escape,
  • Worked for the standing cradle again, settled for a double, for TD5, then cut him
  • Great shot by Wroblewski, but Nickal sat down into it, and locked the cradle from his own butt, lightning quick
  • Kind of got his own arm caught under Wroblewski’s shoulder, enough so that the ref couldn’t feel confident calling the pin
  • Ref hemmed and hawed and jumped from place to place on the mat, but eventually, to his credit, Wroblewski rolled out of it, and Nickal had to settle for the Tech.

Bo Nickal looks great. He’s calm, confident in his absolutely sick arsenal of scoring options, and he’s really looking big and strong.

He’s going to be fascinating to watch this Spring. Not just for Bonus Points in Pittsburgh and a likely 3rd National Championship, but then again on the U.S. World Team qualification circuit in April, May and June.

285 #3 Anthony Cassar WBF Deuce Rachal (2:06); PSU 39-9.

Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com

Weigh-in Weights

  • Cassar 230.3
  • Miller 251.7.
  • Math: Cassar gave up 21.4 pounds.

Period One

  • Deuce worked some under hooks, nothing doing
  • Big, bad, Anthony blast double, to Rachal’s back, where Deuce couldn’t move
  • Much faster pin call from the ref this time

The Takery

If in early to mid January, the Lions looked like they’d been put through the training ringer hard, here now in mid February, they look like the calm before the March storm.

Devin Schnupp, fighter that he is, looks like a long shot to successfully navigate the Big Ten Tourney in a way that qualifies him for Nationals, and the Lions also still have some outstanding questions at a few other weights.

At 149, can Berge manage the weight cut well enough to provide a higher postseason ceiling than Verkleeren?

At 184, Rasheed looked extremely limited against Embree on February 1; how will he look in the final dual on February 24?

At 133, will RBY show any lingering effects from his knee injury on January 25, or did his February 8 performance against Pletcher answer that?

If the answers to each of those questions are given with a not-at-all-unreasonable dash of positivity, each of those three guys, in my opinion, are capable of winning a Friday morning Quarterfinals match against their fields in Pittsburgh. And to be fair, if you answer any of them with the same level of reasonable pragmatism, they’re each also capable of stumbling on Thursday before those Quarterfinals.

Whatever your answers to those three questions, though, the really fun part of this 2019 version of the Cael Sanderson-led Penn State Nittany Lion wrestling team is that the other 6 guys look like we can expect them to win a Friday morning Quarterfinals match and additionally can be very reasonably excited that they’re all capable of or even likely to win a Friday night Semifinals match.

Nick Lee, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal and Anthony Cassar are all wrestling extremely well right now, and look healthy and happy as they cool down before the fire of the March postseason.

One dual meet remains, and Penn State’s postseason ceiling is looking very, very high.