For The Express
UNIVERSITY PARK — By Anthony Cassar’s estimation, Christmas 2018 was about 14 macaroons better than Christmas 2017.
Cassar, who packed on about 40 pounds of muscle after moving to 285 from 197 for the Penn State wrestling team, admitted Thursday in a media availability in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex that life as a heavyweight makes the holidays better.
“It was great. It’s a lot different to be able to eat everything, lift and be able to enjoy myself. It was a lot different than last year. I let myself indulge on Christmas. I had like 15 macaroons and then it was back to the grind after that,” he said, adding that last year he ate celery and hot sauce for Christmas.
“Maybe one macaroon, knock it off and go for a run or something like that. It was a lot, a lot worse.”
For freshman 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young, who hails from Tucson, Arizona, winter break was a chance to get back home.
“It was awesome being home. I had fun,” he said. “I got back last night. I didn’t really want to come back, but I had to get back in the groove of things.”
And for fifth-year senior 157-pounder Jason Nolf, the holiday was more of the same.
“It was good. Got some good training in, got some good recovery in,” he said. “I get to enjoy my meals. I still eat disciplined, but I get to enjoy them just the same as any other week of the year.”
The No. 1 Nittany Lions gathered in Rec Hall on Thursday for their first practice after an extended holiday break following finals and the Dec. 14 Arizona State dual meet. Penn State is gearing up to try to win an eighth Southern Scuffle title on Jan. 1-2 at McKenzie Arena on the campus of Tennessee Chattanooga.
“We just want to see our team wrestle as a team. We want our individuals to wrestle with a little bit of enthusiasm. Just like any team tournament, bonus points are a big part of wrestling for one another,” head coach Cael Sanderson said.
“We want to see those things. I think our team likes that, you see them kind of step up in big moments, in big dual meets, and they like wrestling as a team and being the best team they can be. We’re excited to see what they can do in a tough team tournament like this.”
“A few years ago it was very loaded but (there is) still a lot of great competition; you’re looking at strong individuals in each weight class. But with some strong teams, obviously; a team like Oklahoma State is a national title contender and is as good a team as anybody,” Sanderson said.
“It will be a fun team race but more important than that we’re looking for effort and hustle and progress. You’re coming off a couple of weeks where you’ve not competed so hopefully we’ll be ready to go, so we’ll find out soon.”
Penn State is scheduled to have 18 wrestlers compete in the 23-team field: 125: Devin Schnupp, Brody Teske (unattached); 133: Bravo-Young; 141: Nick Lee, Dominic Giannangeli; 149: Brady Berge, Luke Gardner, Jarod Verkleeren; 157: Nolf, Bo Pipher; 165: Vincenzo Joseph, Mason Manville; 174: Mark Hall; 184: Franny Bisono, Shakur Rasheed; 197: Bo Nickal; 285: Cassar, Nick Nevills.
This year’s Scuffle field includes: N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Lehigh, Lock Haven, Duke, Cal State Bakersfield, Stanford, Drexel, Edinboro, Navy, Columbia, Iowa State, Rider, Chattanooga, Appalachian State, George Mason, Binghamton, Air Force, Ohio, The Citadel and Gardner Webb.
With only one team, Oklahoma State, figuring to have the requisite horsepower to challenge Penn State for the 2019 Scuffle title, intrigue for the Nittany Lions will likely come from individual challenges and milestones.
Nittany Lion fans will get their first glimpse of Teske, the true freshman from Duncombe, Iowa.
“He’s excited to wrestle and the plan was to have him wrestle a few tournaments before this but it just hasn’t worked out for whatever reasons. I know he’s anxious and excited to compete,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson said another freshman 125-pounder, Gavin Teasdale, is not on the roster or enrolled in school yet, but is training with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club “still working and trying to get things rolling again.”
Bravo-Young could see a couple highly ranked freshmen in Oklahoma State’s No. 7 Daton Fix and Iowa State’s No. 10 Austin Gomez.
“(I want to) see where I am at with the best dudes, if I have to wrestle Daton or Austin, and go from there,” he said.
Cassar, similarly, has a loaded weight class to navigate with teammate Nick Nevills, Oklahoma State’s No. 5 Derek White, Virginia Tech’s No. 8 Billy Miller, Lock Haven’s No. 19 Thomas Haines and Drexel’s No. 20 Joey Goodhart.
“I’m excited that they’re sending most of their starters to the Scuffle so it should be a good time and just feeling that tournament format. Last year it felt like it was pretty similar to the nationals format so waking up, wrestling a couple of matches a day, doing the same thing the next day, so just getting used to that format and proving myself once again,” Cassar said.
Nolf, who is rarely challenged, has the opportunity to climb to the top of Penn State’s career falls list. He has 51. The record of 53 is held by Zain Retherford, David Taylor and Josh Moore.
“I just want to pin everybody I wrestle and score a lot of points. I didn’t know I was close to the record. That would be pretty cool, I guess,” he said.
“I’m not doing things for external reasons. I’m doing it because I want to be the best and I want to wrestle the best that I can.”
That, Sanderson said, is a team goal, too.