No. 1 PSU heads to No. 10 Arizona St. in college wrestling
STATE COLLEGE – When No. 1 Penn State visits No. 10 Arizona State on Friday night, it will be a homecoming for sophomore 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young.
Of all the things Bravo-Young misses from his home in Tucson, just 90 minutes away from the Sun Devils’ Tempe campus, there’s one thing above all others he’s looking forward to.
“Friday night after the match,” he said with a smile Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, “I’m excited to sleep in my own bed.”
But that comes after the dual meet. Despite the fact that Bravo-Young will have plenty of family and friends in attendance to see him in a Nittany Lion singlet for the first time, this is first and foremost a business trip for him.
“It’s just another wrestling match. This time my whole family is going to be there, and our town. I’m excited. It gives me more of a drive to put on a show for them,” he said.
“Probably my whole town is going. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be a good dual. It just gets me really excited. I’m more excited to get home right after the match.”
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson admitted that he scheduled the home-and-home series with Arizona State to continue the team tradition of trying to have starters perform in their home state. The Nittany Lions have made trips to Utah and California in recent years with the same goal in mind.
“Generally, that’s something that we pretty much always try to do if we have a kid on our team from out of state. We will try to get back and wrestle so they can wrestle in front of their home crowd, if a kid is starting for us,” Sanderson said.
“I know when I was wrestling at Iowa State, we went back and wrestled Brigham Young when they had a team and that was a lot of fun to go wrestle in front of your hometown crowd and home state so, it’s just something we try to do.”
The Sun Devils feature seven ranked wrestlers, so the match should be highly competitive, especially considering the Nittany Lions might not be at full strength. Starting 157-pounder Brady Berge and 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed were held out of the Black Knight Invite on Sunday as they rehab head and knee injuries, respectively.
Sanderson was non-committal when asked about his lineup Tuesday.
“We have some options there and just try to make the best decisions that we can,” he said. “Whether we win the dual meet or not is not going to be based on … I mean it can come down to one match, obviously, bit it’s going to be how we wrestle as a team, overall, more than, who wrestles what weight or is this guy in or that guy not in? We just have to go wrestle well and just go take care of business. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Based on early-season results, the lineup could likely feature Brody Teske (125), Bravo-Young (133) , No. 3 Nick Lee (141), Jarod Verkleeren (149), Berge or Bo Pipher at 157, No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (165), No. 1 Mark Hall (174), Rasheed or Creighton Edsell at 184, No. 7 Kyle Conel or Austin Hoopes and No. 1 Anthony Cassar (285).
Arizona State will likely send out No. 19 Brandon Courtney (125), Josh Kramer (133), Navonte Demison (141), Josh Maruca (149), No. 17 Jacori Teemer, No. 5 Josh Shields (165), No. 8 Anthony Valencia (174), No. 1 Zahid Valencia (184), Cade Belshay (197) and No. 5 Tanner Hall (285).
The match is scheduled to start at 9 p.m.
The First Step Toward the Trials
Joseph is one of a handful of current Nittany Lions who hope to not only win national championships this year, but also try to earn a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Olympic Team.
His first step in trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials, scheduled for April 4-5 at the Bryce Jordan Center, was competing Saturday in the Bill Farrell Memorial International.
He got off to a promising start with a pair of tech falls, outscoring his first two opponents 24-3 at 74 kilograms. He avenged his NCAA finals loss with a 4-1 win over Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. He fell, 6-0, to former teammate Jason Nolf in the semifinals and then medically forfeited his remaining matches.
“It was my first freestyle competition in a few years, first senior level competition. It was a good experience. I thought I wrestled pretty good in some situations and I need work in others,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to building on that. I’m excited for this weekend, excited to keep competing, getting ready for nationals and U.S. Nationals in December.”
Joseph admitted it did feel good to gain a measure of revenge on Lewis for his 7-1 NCAA finals win, which denied Joseph a third consecutive championship.
“Yeah, any time you avenge a loss like that it feels pretty good. I’m not saying that I really was dying to get that match in. It just happened to be that way,” he said. “He’s a great wrestler. It’s good to be able to put myself against competition like that and see where I stand. I was happy we got to do it. I’m sure we’ll be wrestling again a bunch of times over the year.”
A Year Older, A Year Wiser, and Better
Under Sanderson’s tutelage, wrestlers typically take a leap forward from their freshman to sophomore years. Count Bravo-Young among those.
“I think Roman’s wrestled really well. He’s fun to watch. He can just score with a lot of entertaining ways, a lot of different attacks. Great offense, great re-attacks,” the coach said.
“He can scramble, you know, obviously really fast, but yeah I think he’s definitely more confident than he was a year ago, and he’s better. That just comes from a year of experience and he’s worked hard in the offseason and now it’s time to just keep getting better but also putting that on display and just wrestling with fire and enthusiasm. It seems like that’s what he’s doing.”
Bravo-Young admitted to improving not only his on-mat performance, but his off-mat lifestyle. Cassar is widely cited as a model for living what the Nittany Lions call a clean lifestyle, which involves training, diet and sleep, among other things.
“Besides how much he eats a day and how much he lifts, I’m way far from that. This year I do a lot of things different. Eating better. Getting sleep. Going to Bible study. Taking things from a different perspective. Not focusing on winning and losing. Not wrestling for other people. Not wrestling for the justification of others. I’m just wrestling for myself. Being the best person I can be. My mental state is just in a whole different place,” he said.
“Yeah, I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I’m mentally stronger, physically stronger, bigger, understand positioning more, understand when to use my speed.”