No. 7 Nebraska, No. 1 Iowa up next for PSU
STATE COLLEGE – Cael Sanderson and his staff have accumulated so much talent so consistently that it’s been rare for Penn State to enter a dual meet with fewer ranked wrestlers than an opponent, let alone as the underdog.
However, that might be the case this Friday and the next. The Nittany Lions wrestle at 7 p.m. Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska, against the No. 7 Cornhuskers. A week later they will travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on the No. 1 Hawkeyes.
The first challenge comes from Nebraska, which is expected to field a lineup that features nine ranked wrestlers, three more than Penn State will likely have.
“Nebraska always has a really strong team and this year is obviously no exception,” Sanderson said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“Yeah, every match is important and again it’s exciting for us as a staff, it’s exciting for our team to see what they do with this opportunity. We need our best effort at every weight class.”
Three bouts in particular promise to be closely contested, if history is any indication.
At 141 pounds, No. 2 Nick Lee will renew an Indiana rivalry with No. 8 Chad Red. At 165, No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph will meet familiar foe Isaiah White, ranked No. 5. And, at 174, No. 1 Mark Hall will square off with No. 6 Mikey Labriola.
“Everyone has a tough match. Yeah. I mean, Lee … Chad Red’s really, really good and you know they’ve gone back and forth throughout their careers,” Sanderson said.
“(At) 65 … it’s been overtime seems like most of the time. The nationals last year was and then the prior year in the nationals it was an overtime so Cenzo just has to do his thing and go score some points. Hall had a tough match with his kid, too. He’s a Pa. guy. They have a really good team.”
Joseph said he is looking forward to seeing an opponent that not only has tested him, but that knows his style and tendencies well. He said that familiarity can be an advantage or a disadvantage. If anything, he said, it can slow the tempo of a rematch.
“It’s just really you’ve got to go in looking to battle, pretty much. It can be an advantage or a disadvantage for either guy. A lot comes down to how you’re feeling that day,” Joseph said.
“If you’re feeling good, if you’re excited for the match, if you’re ready to compete, or if you’re nervous and maybe kind of shying away, then maybe not so much in your favor. But just like the other matches I’m sure it’s going to be a good one and I’m excited for it.”
One other notable matchup of ranked wrestlers features sixth-ranked Penn State true freshman 184-pounder Aaron Brooks vs. eighth-ranked junior Taylor Venz. The matchup should provide the first true measuring stick for Brooks in his fledgling collegiate career.
Berge to remain
One big absence in Penn State’s lineup, with the exception of the Lehigh dual, has been starting 157-pounder Brady Berge.
Berge suffered what Sanderson has termed a concussion during a U23 World Championship match in October, a match in which he was knocked unconscious.
Despite wrestling just one dual, which he won, he is so highly thought of he’s still ranked No. 4. However, it would seem as though Berge didn’t respond well to that action because he’s been held out of the lineup ever since.
Sanderson sounded doubtful the junior will be in the lineup against Nebraska. He spoke briefly in cautionary terms about when Berge might make it back onto the competition mat.
“Hopefully he comes back for (the) Big Ten (tournament),” he said. “I don’t think we’re gonna wrestle him this weekend. Hopefully, before the Big Tens I would say.”
Anyone who knows anything about the Nittany Lions knows that they love to emphasize how much fun they have at play, at practice and in competition. A large part of their fun in the practice room comes in the legendary dodgeball games they wage before practice.
Joseph said he and the team see dodgeball as a way to blow off steam and relieve the stress of the season.
“Yeah, dodgeball is huge. We actually train for dodgeball a little bit. Some would call us a dodgeball team with a wrestling problem,” he said.
“But, yeah, the simple stuff like that, you know, just like not like putting so much pressure or stress on ‘we need to win this match’ or something like that. It’s just like you go compete because we love to do stuff like that.”