How’s that old saying go?
“Be careful what you wish for.”
Well, I’ve never been one to heed advice before. Why start now?
Penn State needs the rest of the college wrestling powerhouses of the world to get their collective sh...uhh, stuff together.
As many of you know, Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions took home their fourth consecutive national championship on Saturday and eighth in nine seasons.
They did so by placing five wrestlers in the finals (that’s half the starting lineup for the uninitiated) and winning three individual titles.
Penn State’s team score of 137.5 was 41 points ahead of Ohio State in second, who finished with 96.5. Those 41 points are larger than the margin from Ohio State to Cornell, which finished sixth.
The Nittany Lions thoroughly dominated the competition essentially from start to finish this past weekend and it felt sort of...underwhelming.
This was as Penn State was in the midst of going 5-1 in the semifinal session and all but locking up the team title before the final day of the tournament even began.
The reality is that without someone like Ohio State in 2018 to push Penn State, the Nittany Lions are competing against themselves and expectations that are nearly impossible to top.
Somewhere in the middle of the season I said that this could be the year Penn State doesn’t wrestle up to expectations and that no one is close enough to make it matter. It appears that prophecy held true.
Sanderson has said a number of times that his wrestlers go out there not necessarily looking to finish on top, but to be the best versions of themselves as possible.
Who knows whether he’d say it out loud, but I’d venture a guess that he feels that wasn’t the case this past weekend, despite the Nittany Lions demolishing the field.
The reality is that not only is it better for college wrestling, it’s better for Penn State fans when there’s someone pushing the Nittany Lions to the brink.
Had Penn State finished with 137.5 points and Ohio State or Oklahoma State finished with 130, nobody would have a care in the world.
While programs like Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Northern Iowa showed just how deep the college wrestling field is, the tournament is at its best when there are multiple teams vying for the top spot on the podium.
The good news for fans of the sports is that we shouldn’t be far off from that being the case again. The Nittany Lions have to find a way to replace 53 points next season following the departure of Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf (the tournament’s top two scorers) and could also lose national champion Anthony Cassar should hs medical hardship waiver be denied by the NCAA.
Though Penn State certainly has a good amount of firepower in the pipeline with guys like Michael Beard, Kyle Conel, Seth Nevills and a full-sized Brady Berge, the other power programs are coming on strong as well.
Iowa returns eight members of its starting lineup assuming Spencer Lee forgoes an Olympic Redshirt. The Haweyes will also welcome back Michael Kemerer from injury and add a talented heavyweight in redshirt freshman Anthony Cassiopi.
Over in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines also return eight starters and will likely add a pair of stud true freshmen to the lineup in Joey Silva and Will Lewan.
Lastly, down in Stillwater the Pokes should be on the upswing. They bring back just six starters but should also add 2018 All-American Boo Lewallen to the lineup as well as former Penn State commit Travis Wittlake.
So all is not lost for fans of the sport, and fans of the Nittany Lions should welcome the challenge.