PSU’s lineup has been growing stronger lately
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State wrestling fans must be delighted to see that as the lineup gets closer to being solidified, it has also been growing stronger.
At 125 pounds, Drew Hildebrandt gives the Nittany Lions an experienced, All-American presence. At either 157 or 165, Brady Berge figures to emerge as an eventual starter who comes with a wealth of experience and talent.
That’s great, for the new guys. But when a Hildebrandt goes into the lineup, a Baylor Shunk or Jake Campbell is sidelined. If Berge earns a starting spot, then a Tony Negron or Creighton Edsell will be watching from the bench.
Those types of situations are a fact of life at all levels of sport when the object is to win, but it doesn’t make it easier for the athlete who is supplanted.
Often times, situations like that lead to hurt feelings, frustration and, lately, entry into the transfer portal. That’s rarely the case at Penn State. Coach Cael Sanderson said he thinks that’s because wrestlers on his team know what the goals are, and because they are treated equitably.
“I think it’s just a matter of being fair. Everybody has an equal opportunity to make the team and to compete for the team. That will never change. We’re trying to put the best team we can out there,” he said.
“When you come to Penn State, you know we’re competing and our goal is to be the best team in the country and win and compete for national titles every year. I think that’s just an expectation.”
Even though everyone knows the expectations, that doesn’t mean everyone is pleased 100 percent of the time, he said.
“Everyone’s not always happy. We have parents, just like every team in the country and everyone doesn’t leave happy. That’s not reality,” he said.
“We just try to be fair, treat everybody (the same). We love all the guys on our team. Just because we love you that doesn’t mean we’re gonna put you out there if you’re not giving great effort. I’m not saying we don’t have anybody that hasn’t given great effort. That’s not the case.”
Beau Bartlett said the wrestlers typically decided who goes at what weight.
“They (the coaches) do a great job of staying out of it and not having any favorites. Since everyone knows, everyone gets multiple shots. They preach that if you do all of the right things, you will wrestle in a Penn State singlet,” he said.
“They literally promised just after the last match, if you’re doing everything right and you’re close to weight, you will get a chance to wrestle. Just be ready.”
Sanderson said just because Berge is back on the roster and back in the room, that doesn’t guarantee him anything. Sanderson said he literally just got back to campus on Sunday, so there are lots of questions to answer.
“We’ve just got to figure out what the plan is moving forward, not only with him but also with the other guys in the weight,” he said.
“Obviously, Brady has a ton of experience and for him, it’s just a matter of making sure he’s feeling good and he’s healthy. When he’s ready, he’ll go.”
It’s unclear whether Berge’s go time will be Sunday against Rutgers, or sometime later. Regardless, Penn State will get tested at several weights, just probably not pushed as a team.
Three weights stand out as potentially entertaining matchups, at 141, 184 and 197.
At 141, top-ranked Nittany Lion Nick Lee will take on No. 3 Sebastian Rivera in a rematch of an NCAA semifinal bout. Lee defeated Rivera, 9-3, in his march to the 141-pound title.
At 184, No. 1 Aaron Brooks faces No. 5 John Poznanski in a matchup of the champion and fourth-place finisher at the 2021 NCAA tournament.
And, at 197, No. 2 Max Dean will square off with No. 7 Greg Bulsak, the transfer from Clarion who is a four-time NCAA qualifier.
“I think there’s just a lot of great matches. Rutgers has a very strong lineup and they’ve been crushing it this year. It’s just gonna be a great match. And you know, Rutgers is getting better and better and they have some really good kids on their team and a really solid lineup,” Sanderson said.
“So, it’s just one of those dual meets where we just need everybody’s best effort and we need a great team effort. So, just looking forward to competing again. When we start competing again, that’s when we can really start making progress with our guys.