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Penn State wrestling mailbag: Has Zahid Valencia pulled away from Mark Hall?, Will Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren continue to split time?

Penn State hasn’t wrestled in more than a week.

However, it wasn’t a quiet week with prized-recruit Robbie Howard verbally committing to the team.

This week is finals week for the Nittany Lions, but a big dual against Arizona State looms, which will be highlighted with Mark Hall and Zahid Valencia squaring off in a rematch of last year’s 174-pound NCAA finals.

Let’s see what we got in this week’s mailbag:

Do you think Hall can beat Valencia? Or has Zahid pulled away?

I do believe Hall can beat Valencia. He’s done it before. Now, the first two matchups in college had these two each earning a one-point victory. Hall topped Valencia 4-3 in the 2017 NCAA semifinals before winning his title as a true freshman. Valencia topped Hall 3-2 in the All-Star Classic in the preseason of last year, which didn’t count toward the official records. I went back and watch last season’s 174-pound finals to refresh my brain.

I initially forgot about the crazy scramble the two had that started with Valencia hitting a nasty double leg but how he wasn’t able to control Hall. Hall rolled and looked to get a takedown himself, but Valencia scrambled away. After that scramble, it is was all Valencia. He took Hall down again, and Hall struggled to get out. Valencia finished with a dominant 8-2 win for the crown. Hall has worked on that bottom position the entire offseason and doesn’t seem to have any problems getting out from anyone now. He also worked on his ride game, too, from the top position. I think with those two improvements, everyone will be in for a show Friday night.

Valencia hasn’t pulled away with Hall working on those minor flaws, but there could be some home-crowd magic in Hall’s favor. Valencia wrestled in Rec Hall this summer in the Final X Series against Kyle Dake. Dake swept Valencia in the best-of-three series. Friday is going to be fun.

Any idea why (Brody) Teske is not wrestling?

Penn State has a very tight-lipped room. Nothing rarely ever gets out about why wrestlers are not competing. The Gavin Teasdale situation is a big exception. Rumor is Teske hasn’t been able to get down to 125 pounds. The real question is, does weight really matter if the plan is to redshirt the entire season?

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t but, if Teske isn’t expected to see the lineup at all this season, why does he have to get down to 125 pounds? This is the only spot that someone could fit into the Nittany Lions’ lineup this year as all the other starters are pretty much a lock with Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren battling it out at 149 pounds.

Teske hasn’t wrestled at all, so is it really a weight issue or is he injured? Only time will tell what’s going on with the redshirt freshman. Maybe his first competition will come in the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of the new year. Stay tuned!

Why did Berge not start in the first dual meet? Do you think he will be splitting time with Verkleeren or is it solidified that he will be the starter?

Berge didn’t start in the first dual of the season because he was still trying to get his weight down to 149 pounds. It is what they call weight acclimation. It’s one thing to cut weight, but another to keep it off, feel comfortable and have energy to compete. We all saw the affects what weight cutting can do to wrestlers. When Shakur Rasheed was making the weight cut at 165 pounds and he didn’t have a match in hand by the end of the first period, he was gassed and losing matches.

I could see Berge and Verkleeren splitting time throughout the year. Now, if one of them comes out and has a standout Southern Scuffle tournament in three weeks and wins a title, that could change things. As I said at the beginning of the year, the Southern Scuffle will define how this Penn State team ends up at the end of the year. This can be said about the lineup too.

Other programs, like Iowa and Lehigh, have suffered a lot of big injuries this season. Why does it seem like Penn State is — knock on wood — the exception right now?

The Nittany Lions have a tremendous training staff with Dan Monthly spearheading that team. I am by no means saying other schools’ training staffs are bad, and I can bet Penn State isn’t fully 100 percent — but there are no serious injuries. Everyone gets bumps and bruises, and how could you not with how physical a sport wrestling is? We see what injuries can do to a team too. Look at Lehigh; the Mountain Hawks have been a top-10 program the past two seasons, but this year they’ve been decimated by injuries and fell out of the top-15 last week.

I think that some coaches just feel that the regular season isn’t important. Cael Sanderson loves the idea of dual matches, but not all coaches do. This is why you probably see some schools not start some of their guys for duals with the chances of an injury occurring and the possibility of that wrestler not being able to compete in the postseason. I also think that’s why the dual championship series fizzled out after two years as significant injuries occurred in the two years of it that kept wrestlers out of the postseason — i.e. Nick Suriano almost two years ago.

I saw PSU got a big verbal from recruit Robbie Howard. How do you see him fitting into PSU’s lineup?

I can see Howard coming in and starting right away for Penn State at 133 pounds in two years. However, I look for him to redshirt in his first year of eligibility. Roman Bravo-Young will be in his third season at 133 pounds with Nick Lee in his senior year at 141. Following this year, Howard would step right in at 133 or 141 pounds and Bravo-Young redshirts. By that time, the Nittany Lions will have probably recruited someone to replace Lee at 141 or has someone at 133 pounds should Howard go at 141.

For Bravo-Young’s senior season, it could be a flip flop Bravo-Young back to 133 and Howard at 141 or Howard stays at 133 and Bravo-Young goes at 141. This is so far down the road so it will be interesting to see what Sanderson and Co. would pull off here.

Don’t forget you can submit questions for the weekly mailbag on Twitter to Nate Cobler or Lauren Muthler or via email or

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