For The Express
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State raised its 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championship banner to the Rec Hall rafters Sunday before its season opener against Kent State. Then in the next hour and change, the Nittany Lions made a down payment on another.
Based on the Nittany Lions’ results in a 52-3 blowout of Kent State in front of a sell-out crowd of 6,496, Penn State’s 46th-straight dual meet win, it might not be too early to pre-order a banner for a 2019 championship.
With a lineup that featured 12 All-America honors and seven NCAA championships spread among just six of the 10 starters, Penn State produced seven falls and two technical falls as it won nine of 10 bouts.
“I think, overall, the team just looked very good. The two freshmen looked great. (Anthony) Cassar looked big and strong. Bo (Nickal) looked big and strong. Shak (Rasheed) looked good down a weight. We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” head coach Cael Sanderson said.
“We’re appreciative of Kent State coming in here. It’s not an easy thing to do, with the crowd and being early in the season like this and we have a pretty veteran team with our freshmen being two guys who have a lot of experience who are very good. We’re excited about the year.”
That excitement was ramped up by the performances of two newcomers to the lineup, true freshman Roman Bravo-Young at 133 and Jarod Verkleeren at 149. Each was impressive in his Rec Hall debut, each letting his actions speak louder than his words. Neither was terribly effusive after the match in the Rec Hall media room.
After Kent State grabbed a 12-8 decision at 125, Penn State reeled off four straight wins to mount a 23-3 lead at the break. The Nittany Lions piled up three falls and a technical fall with wins from 133 through 157.
Bravo-Young started the streak. He was electric in his Penn State debut, amassing a 9-0 lead before barring an arm, running a half-Nelson and scoring a pin in 5:31 at 133 pounds.
“It was really fun. I was a little nervous at first, jitters. Once I got going, it was fun,” Bravo-Young said.
“I could hear the coaches (telling me) to work on my snaps, so I just moved my feet. In the second period, I felt him kind of getting tired. In the third period I shoved him a little bit to get to the center because my adrenaline was going. I wasn’t tired. I could have kept going.”
Nick Lee followed with a 17-2 technical fall in 3:44. Lee used four takedowns and two sets of four-point nearfalls to secure the win.
At 149, Verkleeren made his Rec Hall debut memorable with a fall in 1:20. He was locked in an over-under situation with Golden Flash Kody Komara and Verkleeren came out on top, securing the first-period fall.
“He body locked me and then I sent it, full send, to his back,” Verkleeren said of the six-point move that led to the quick fall.
The soft-spoken redshirt freshman said it was a position he was comfortable in, even if initially he was a bit nervous.
“Maybe a little, but I’m pretty comfortable up there so I took the risk,” he said.
Two-time defending NCAA 157-pound champion Jason Nolf didn’t disappoint either. He racked up six takedowns with a variety of takedowns before locking up a crossface cradle and securing the pin in 2:29.
Coming out of the break, Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall kept the pin parade going with a pair of second-period falls. Joseph scored six takedowns before ending the match at the 3:40 mark. Hall showed some new moves on top to open a 10-0 lead after a period and then hit a cement mixer to end the match at 3:34.
Rasheed made it five pins in a row. He showed no ill effects from his move to 184 from 197. He locked up his patented crossface cradle and scored the fall in 1:13.
At 197, a heavily anticipated match between Nickal, at his new weight, and Kyle Conel, who placed third at the NCAA tournament a year ago and is ranked No. 2 behind No. 1 Nickal, never materialized. Conel is out of the lineup with an injury. Nickal made quick work of Conel’s fill-in, decking him in 2:05.
Cassar, who was noticeably bigger and more muscular after moving to 285 from 197, was dominant in a 17-2 technical fall in 5:14.
“I think Cassar looked really good. His finishes were very clean and quick, very explosive and powerful,” Sanderson said. “He looked great.”
So, too, did the Nittany Lions, in taking a first step toward a fourth consecutive NCAA championship, which would be the eighth in the past nine years. Penn State returns to action next Sunday in Philadelphia at the Keystone Classic.
No. 1 Penn State 52
No. 24 Kent State 3
(Sunday at University Park)
125: Jake Ferri, KS, dec. Devin Schnupp, 12-8.
133: Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, pinned Tim Rooney, 5:31.
141: No. 4 Nick Lees, PSU, won by tech. fall over Cory Simpson, 17-2 (3:44).
149: Jarod Verkleeren, PSU, pinned Kody Komara, 1:20.
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, pinned Joe Andrassy, 2:29.
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, pinned Isaac Bast, 3:40.
174: No. 2 Mark Hall, PSU, pinned Dylan Barreiro, 3:34.
184: No. 4 Shakur Rasheed, PSU, pinned Andrew McNally, 1:13.
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, pinned Shane Mast, 2:05.
285: Anthony Cassar, PSU, won by tech. fall over Billy Bolia, 17-2 (5:14).
Referee: Angel Rivera.
Ridge Riley Award winner: Jarod Verkleeren, 149 pounds.
Takedowns: Kent State 4; Penn State 32.
Records: Kent State 3-5; Penn State 1-0.
Next match: Penn State at Keystone Classic, 10 a.m. Sunday in Philadelphia.