Some people see the 10-team Keystone Classic field and wonder why Penn State would bother to drive to Philadelphia to wrestle those teams in a fabled basketball arena.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson looks at the other nine teams — Appalachian State, Drexel, Duke, Franklin & Marshall, Harvard, Penn, Rider, Sacred Heart and VMI — and sees a day of competition for his Nittany Lions in the University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra.
“It gives these guys a chance to run through a tournament type of bracket against good, quality competition. Every weight’s a little bit different but we’ve really enjoyed the tournament the past couple of years we’ve been there and I know our fans enjoy it,” Sanderson said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
“UPenn does a nice job with it. Should be some solid competition and the more we wrestle the more we’re gonna figure out what we need to work on to continue to move forward.”
Two weights where the Nittany Lions need to settle on a starter, 149 and 285, may feature the two favorites at those respective weights.
Redshirt freshman Jarod Verkleeren got the nod on Sunday in Penn State’s season-opening 52-3 demolition of No. 24 Kent State, but Brady Berge will have a say in who the eventual starter will be. At 285, Anthony Cassar got the start over incumbent starter Nick Nevills, a two-time All-American.
Sanderson said Berge and Nevills might compete Sunday.
“(There’s a) good chance of that,” he said. “We still have to make that decision if we want to throw them in there now. They’re definitely both ready but do we want to have them wrestle yet? That’s the decision we have to make.”
Sanderson named Justin Lopez as another competitor at 125, but said neither of the redshirting freshmen, Brody Teske or Gavin Teasdale, nor any other redshirting wrestlers, could compete. He did say as many as 20 Nittany Lions could see action.
As for Berge and Nevills, Sanderson said each would have his chance to try to earn a spot in the starting lineup.
“This is wrestling and you have to go earn your spot. He’ll (Nevills) have that opportunity, just like Cassar will have his opportunity, just like everyone else on the team has that same opportunity. We have two of the best guys in the country — we believe — at that weight class and it’s up to them to figure out who’s going to represent Penn State as we get into March,” he said.
“(Berge’s) made weight, but you want to do the right thing for the kid in the long run. It’s not a race to see how quickly we can get him out there. Part of the challenge is being ready to be at our best at the end of the season.”
Lee quietly chugs along
On a team that features four former NCAA champions, it’s easy to be overlooked. Nick Lee finished fifth at the NCAA tournament as a true freshman in March, but he’s rarely the first Nittany Lion people ask about.
“Nick’s very consistent, he’s gonna wrestle hard all the time. He’s gonna use every second. That’s one thing with our team, we have a lot of great wrestlers who maybe don’t get talked about as much as some of the other ones,” Sanderson said.
“You saw him get beat as a true freshman in the first round (of the nationals) to a kid he had majored earlier in the year. It didn’t faze him; he battled right back and helped the team win a national title. I think that alone speaks volumes to his character and his strength.”
Lee said the experience he accumulated last season has helped his comfort level so far this season.
“I’m a lot more comfortable, especially with the experience I’ve had over the last year. I guess we’ll see if it makes a difference. I feel like I’m more experienced. In the room I feel a little bit better. We’ll see,” he said.
Rasheed at the right weight
Shakur Rasheed is at his fourth weight as a Nittany Lion, 184 pounds, but he said he feels like he’s finally found the perfect spot.
“I’ve never competed at a weight where I wasn’t cutting too much weight or giving up weight. Now I’m actually at a weight that is ideal,” he said.
“I’m losing weight, but I’m not dying out there. I’m healthy. I’m actually able to compete at a weight that I feel comfortable in that’s ideal for somebody with my body type.”
NOTES: Competition gets under way at 10 a.m. All six mats will be streamed live via ESPN+. Live match updates, brackets and team scores will be available via FloArena.