Earlier this week, Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson said the team felt like it lost after a win over Wisconsin a week ago.
He said that Sunday’s tilt with Nebraska will be a good test to see how his team will handle the adversity of the Wisconsin match.
At first glance, the Nittany Lions’ matchup with the Cornhuskers might not seem as exciting as a dual with Iowa or Ohio State. However, a more in-depth look shows there is the possibility of seven bouts with ranked wrestlers squaring off against one another.
There could also be a total of 17 ranked wrestlers on the mat Sunday inside Rec Hall — as long as Mother Nature doesn’t have other plans and the match goes on despite the snow.
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We break down the top-5 matches we’re excited for:
1) No. 1 Jason Nolf vs. No. 2 Tyler Berger, 157 pounds
Cobler: This one is listed as the top matchup for a reason. This will be the second time this year that Nittany Lions’ fans get to see No. 1 vs. No. 2 at Rec Hall. The first was Mark Hall against Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia, and we all know how that ended — athough this one won’t quite live up to the hype of Hall-Valencia IV.
This, too, will be the fourth time that Nolf and Berger have squared off. Nolf has won all three matches — and it hasn’t been close once. The Penn State senior has outscored his Cornhusker opponent by the score of 47-15. Nolf has two major decisions and a technical fall. I don’t see how Nolf doesn’t get a major decision or higher again.
Prediction: Nolf by technical fall, 20-5 in 5:35.
Muthler: Anytime Nos. 1 and 2 are set to face off, it’s bound to be an exciting match. Whenever one of the most dominant wrestlers in the country in Nolf is involved, however, the prospects for a competitive match greatly decrease. We saw him record a major decision over the No. 3-ranked wrestler, Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin, just last week.
But Nebraska’s Berger is having an impressive season himself. The senior just notched his 104th career win against Maryland on Friday and has put together an impressive resume this season with wins over last year’s runner-up Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State), Deakin and Ohio State’s Ke-Shawn Hayes. Berger recorded his first fall of the season Friday night, to improve to 16-1, with nine of the wins by bonus points. If anyone can snap Nolf’s perfect bonus rate this season, it’s Berger. But at home in Rec Hall, Nolf is unlikely to let that happen.
Prediction: Nolf by major decision, 14-5.
2) No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph vs. No. 6 Isaiah White, 165 pounds
Cobler: We might not get to see this matchup since Joseph’s status is up in the air, but we had to have it on here just in case Joseph is going to go. These two have only wrestled each other once in college. Let’s just say, White almost kept Joseph from repeating as an NCAA champion. White and Joseph squared off in the 165-pound quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships in Cleveland.
I went back and watched the match. The only points scored in regulation were escapes. It wasn’t until the second sudden victory period that Joseph countered a White shot and scored the winning takedown 12 seconds into the period for the 4-2 victory.
Prediction: Joseph by decision, 8-4.
Muthler: For whatever reason, White has proven to be a tricky matchup for the top-ranked Joseph. White boasted a 2-0 record over Joseph back when the pair were in high school,topping Joseph 9-3 in the finals of the Junior Men’s Freestyle National in Fargo, N.D., in 2014, then in overtime a few months later at the Ironman finals. Joseph said after his sudden-victory win over White at NCAAs last season, that he had been looking forward to the match to see how much he had grown since then as a wrestler.
As a two-time national champ, it appears Joseph has grown a lot as a wrestler and was also off to a very fast start this season, recording 10 straight bonus-point victories. White has also been wrestling very well. After dropping a few early-season matches, White got back into the groove by winning the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Tournament in November, with victories over Junior World champ Mehki Lewis (Virginia Tech), and Michigan’s Logan Massa.
Joseph’s coach didn’t disclose exactly what kept his wrestler out of competition last week, so it’s uncertain how much that could affect Joseph this week. At full health or not, it’s safe to assume this will be a close one for Joseph.
Prediction: Joseph by decision, 6-4 in sudden victory
3) No. 6 Nick Lee vs. No. 19 Chad Red, 141 pounds
Cobler: These two have a long history between them that spans back to their high school days in Indiana. Oddly enough, this will be the first time they face off on the collegiate level. There was a chance they could’ve faced off in the NCAA Championships last year, but it didn’t come to fruition.
I watched the pair’s last matchup, which was the 2016 132-pound Indiana state high school finals. It reminded me of my time watching Austin DeSanto taking on Spencer Lee for the PIAA title in 2017. The crowd was looking for the upset and was in Nick’s corner as Red was looking for his fourth state title — like Spencer was. Nick scored the first points of the match, but Red wasn’t going to be denied and won in the end. But, since they’ve come to college, Nick Lee has had the better record. He holds a 19-3 mark against common opponents compared to Red’s 15-10. Lee is the better wrestler now.
Prediction: Lee by decision, 7-4.
Muthler: Coming off his first loss of the season, this matchup against his old high school foe will be a good test for how well Lee can put that loss behind him and move forward. Red had a strong finish to the season last year, placing eighth and pinning two-time national champ Dean Heil, of Oklahoma State. The Cornhusker, however, has struggled a bit this season. Red is 11-6 on the season, and sits at No. 19 in InterMat’s poll, after starting off the season in the top 10.
Even though Red might be a bit down this year, he remains a dangerous wrestler. Like Lee, Red likes to keep up a fast offensive pace, but Lee’s motor is nearly impossible to match. Now seems like the opportune time for Lee to avenge that Indiana state final loss.
Prediction: Lee by decision, 10-4
4) No. 3 Shakur Rasheed vs. No. 5 Taylor Venz, 184 pounds
Cobler: There isn’t any history or anything at all between these two. Its just a top-5 tilt and a battle of returning All-Americans. Venz finished fourth last year at 184 pounds, and Rasheed finished seventh up a weight class at 197 pounds. Venz was the No. 7 seed last year at the NCAA Championships and wrestled the No. 10 seed in Illinois’ Emery Parker for third place. Rasheed, who was the No. 5 seed, reached the quarterfinals and narrowly missed the semifinals with a 5-4 loss to the NCAA champion in former North Carolina State wrestler Michael Macchiavello.
Sunday’s bout should be pretty evenly matched, but we all know the effect Rec Hall and Penn State fans have on opposing wrestlers. I expect this to be close, but the crowd and magic of Rec Hall will lead Rasheed to a win.
Prediction: Rasheed by decision, 8-5.
Muthler: Rasheed has been on fire so far this season, earning bonus points — including six pins — in 12 of his 14 matches. However, he has yet to wrestle anyone of Venz’s caliber. Ranked two below Rasheed at No. 5 in InterMat’s poll, Venz has one of several upset opportunities for the Huskers. Venz is a strong 184-pounder and unlikely to let himself get caught up in Rasheed’s patented cross-face cradle.
Of the four matches detailed so far, this might be the best opportunity for the Cornhuskers to take one, if Joseph is healthy. Rasheed can win if he doesn’t let himself get caught underneath Venz and is able to push the action in the neutral position.
Prediction: Venz by decision, 8-6
5) No. 1 Mark Hall vs. No. 9 Mikey Labriola, 174 pounds
Cobler: Labriola is a three-time PIAA medalist, including a title in 2017 for Bethlehem Catholic. Of course, everyone knows Hall’s credentials. Labriola will probably have plenty of fans in the stands for him as this will be the closest that he’s wrestled to home since joining Nebraska out of high school.
This one shouldn’t be much of a contest for Hall. I see Hall earning bonus points in this matchup.
Prediction: Hall by major decision, 14-6.
Muthler: Labriola is an exciting freshman for the Cornhuskers, with the potential for a great career ahead of him. However, Hall will likely be a bit too much for him. Coming off a technical-fall victory last weekend, Hall has been firing on all cylinders, looking strong in all three positions.
Although the two have not yet wrestled each other, they have two common opponents this season in Drexel’s Jason Hoffman and Northwestern’s Johnny Sebastian. Hall pinned Hoffman, while Labriola earned a technical fall; and Labriola recorded a major decision over Sebastian, while Hall won by decision. Sunday should offer an opportunity for Labriola to show how good he can be with the chance to test the former national champ, but ultimately, Hall should win pretty easily.
Prediction: Hall by major decision, 17-8
No. 9 Nebraska (8-2, 2-1 Big Ten) at No. 1 Penn State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten)
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rec Hall
Radio: ESPN 1450AM
Online: BTN+ (paid subscription); LionVision (free) at gopsusports.com
|125: Devin Schnupp (5-8)||vs.||No. 13 Zeke Moisey (8-5)|
|133: No. 13 Roman Bravo-Young (14-1)||vs.||Jevon Parrish (13-5) OR Tucker Sjomeling (11-5)|
|141: No. 6 Nick Lee (16-1)||vs.||No. 19 Chad Red (12-6)|
|149: No. 10 Brady Berge (13-2) OR Jarod Verkleeren (8-4)||vs.||Collin Purinton (8-6) OR Jordan Shearer (6-4)|
|157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (15-0)||vs.||No. 2 Tyler Berger (16-1)|
|165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (13-0) OR Bo Pipher (10-7) OR Mason Manville (7-5)||vs.||No. 6 Isaiah White (11-3)|
|174: No. 1 Mark Hall (15-0)||vs.||No. 9 Mikey Labriola (15-3)|
|184: No. 3 Shakur Rasheed (14-0)||vs.||No. 5 Taylor Venz (13-3)|
|197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (14-0)||vs.||No. 11 Eric Schultz (15-5)|
|285: No. 4 Anthony Cassar (13-1)||vs.||No. 14 David Jensen (10-1)|