Although class is not yet back in session, the break is over for Penn State wrestlers, as they poured into the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex Friday morning for practice.
With the Southern Scuffle just four days away, wrestlers were excited to be back and getting ready for the flight down to Chattanooga, Tenn.
“I’m excited that they’re (other teams) sending most of their starters, so it should be a good time, just feeling that tournament format,” senior heavyweight Anthony Cassar said. “Last year, it felt like it was pretty similar to the national tournament — waking up, wrestling a couple matches a day, then coming back and doing the same thing. So, just getting used to that format and prove myself again.”
As of Friday, the Nittany Lions will be bringing a roster of 17 wrestlers to the Scuffle. Redshirt freshman Brody Teske will be competing unattached at 125 pounds in what will be his collegiate debut.
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In addition to 125, where Penn State is also sending starter Devin Schnupp, the Nittany Lions will have six other weight classes with multiple entries.
As the Scuffle provides a chance for wrestlers outside the starting 10 to get a shot to prove themselves — and for others to solidify their roles as starters — here’s a look at Penn State’s most contested weights:
In recent history, the Scuffle has proven to be a prime opportunity for true freshmen to make their case for coming out of their redshirts and earning a starting spot.
Nick Lee cracked the starting lineup last season after finishing runnerup and an injury to then-starter Jered Cortez, and Mark Hall had a breakout performance as a true freshman in 2017.
This year, it’s Teske who has the chance to come out of his redshirt. The difference between Teske and the other two is that Lee and Hall both had several matches under their belts leading up to the Scuffle.
“He’s excited to wrestle,” Sanderson said of Teske. “The plan was to have him wrestle a few tournaments before this, but it just hasn’t worked out for him for whatever reasons, but I know he’s anxious and excited to compete.”
Sophomore Schnupp, 4-4, has been holding down the starting spot so far this season, and for most of last season. The highlight of his season so far, although it ended in a loss, was a 2-seconds-left reversal against Arizona State’s Brandon Courtney on Dec. 14, keeping bonus points off the board.
“We want to see these guys competing against tough competition to give us the best information they can to make a good, strong decision, but Schnupp’s been wrestling well and (Gavin) Teasdale’s been working, trying to get things rolling again,” Sanderson said.
Teasdale, who announced in November he was leaving the program briefly for health reasons and returning in January, is still not back on Penn State’s roster. However, Sanderson said the freshman has been training with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and should be ready for competition, whenever that time comes.
“There’s a lot of moving parts there, just like before, but time’s ticking and the season’s winding down, but we’re also kind of just getting going here. So we still have a lot of time, but we’re going to be patient,” he said.
The Nittany Lions are taking three wrestlers — redshirt freshmen Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren and sophomore Luke Gardner.
So far this season, Berge and Verkleeren have been sharing the starting role, trading every other match. As of right before the Arizona State match, a final decision on the starter had not yet been made.
The last time Berge, Verkleeren and Gardner competed in a tournament together was at the Keystone Classic on Nov. 18, where they finished second, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Berge won the head-to-head matchup with Verkleeren 3-2 in the semifinals, before taking a medical forfeit against Mitch Finesilver in the finals. Also registered for the Scuffle, Berge could get another chance to face Duke’s Finesilver next week.
Ranked No. 10 by InterMat, Berge is 6-0 on the season, including three technical falls and a major decision. Verkleeren is 6-2, his other loss coming at the hand of Penn’s No. 15 Anthony Artalona at the Keystone Classic, and Gardner is 9-4. Gardner’s nine wins are tied with Lee’s for a team high this season.
When asked at different points throughout the season about the competition between Berge and Verkleeren, Sanderson is always sure to add that those two aren’t the only ones in the mix for that spot.
With the way Cassar has been performing so far this season, it can be easy to assume he has the starting role all wrapped up.
But Sanderson reminded reporters Friday that All-American Nick Nevills has had about a month and a half to prepare since the last time he wrestled — at the Keystone Classic — and is still in the hunt for that spot.
“I know he’s been working really hard. He stayed here all break, so it should be a good bracket. I think they’re both excited to compete,” Sanderson said.
Nevills, a senior, was injured near the end of the NCAA tournament, and underwent shoulder surgery as soon as the season ended, Sanderson said earlier this year. Although Sanderson had said in the beginning of the season that Nevills was looking good and ready to wrestle, he said they were being patient and not rushing him into competition.
Meanwhile, up from last season’s weight of 197, Cassar has amassed a 7-0 record, with three ranked wins, including 7-2 over Nevills at the Keystone Classic.
In a bracket that includes Oklahoma State’s No. 3 Derek White, the Scuffle could be another opportunity for Cassar to get a ranked win.
“I think Cassar’s given us a pretty good idea of what he’s capable of, and he’s been very impressive, just calm, confident and wrestling really well,” Sanderson said.
After downing about 15 macaroons over the Christmas break, Cassar said he got up to 240 pounds, but has since leveled out back to 235, where he feels most comfortable.
But being a smaller heavyweight hasn’t seemed to faze him so far this season, as he’s been able to take down larger guys with considerable ease.
“I’ve wrestled with heavyweights for a long time, since I was in high school, so it doesn’t really surprise me, but they’re a little lighter than I think when I first get out there. So I’ve got to return them a little more safely,” Cassar said with a laugh.
It might not necessarily be a contested weight, but redshirt freshman Mason Manville will be wrestling collegiality at 165 pounds for the first time when he competes Tuesday at the Scuffle.
Even though he has been wrestling at 174 pounds so far this season, Sanderson said the runner up at this summer’s Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials is stronger at 165.
With a past-national-champ junior ahead of him at either weight — Vincenzo Joseph and Hall — Manville has a difficult road in terms of cracking the lineup. But in one of the stronger weight classes at the Scuffle, Sanderson said the coaching staff is excited to see how he does at his new weight.
Full roster for Scuffle
125: Devin Schnupp; 133: Roman Bravo-Young; 141: Nick Lee, Dominic Giannangeli; 149: Brady Berge, Jarod Verkleeren, Luke Gardner; 157: Jason Nolf, Bo Pipher; 165: Vincenzo Joseph, Mason Manville; 174: Mark Hall; 184: Shakur Rasheed; Francisco Bisono; 197: Bo Nickal; 285: Anthony Cassar, Nick Nevills; Unattached: Brody Teske (125)