Throughout the Cael Sanderson era at Penn State, people have asked when the Nittany Lions were going to under-perform at the NCAA tournament.
If the 2019 Southern Scuffle is any indication, this year could be the year.
The great irony of that notion is that this is also the year that Penn State is so far ahead of the rest of the field that it wouldn’t even matter.
Penn State looked just a step off beat in Chattanooga, and yet the Nittany Lions rolled to the team title and put up a record 216.5 points.
The tournament started out strong enough for the Nittany Lions as they advanced 14 wrestlers into the quarterfinals, but there were early warning signs from Roman-Bravo Young and Brady Berge that things may not be going swimmingly.
In the quarters, things got a bit bumpy.
Unattached freshman Brody Teske fell via 15-0 tech fall to unraned Luke Werner of Lock Haven.
Bravo-Young needed sudden victory to top unseeded, unattached freshman Collin Gerardi of Virginia Tech.
Up at 149, Brady Berge needed a late takedown and a disputable call to knock off Jared Prince of Navy, 4-3.
Vincenzo Joseph narrowly escape with a 6-4 victory over, an albeit tough, freshman Shane Griffith of Stanford while Mason Manville battled to a 4-2 loss to Chance Marsteller.
In total, Penn State pushed 11 wrestlers into the semis, but again, there were warning signs.
It appeared the semis would start out strong as RBY jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead over No. 9 Austin Gomez of Iowa State. But mid-way through the second period, Gomez dug double and as he did so, RBY appeared to relax for a moment on the edge and Gomez threw him to his back and got the fall.
Nick Lee rolled past Lock Haven’s Kyle Shoop, 18-4 at 141.
Up at 149, Brady Berge fell to No. 7 Mitch Finesilver of Duke. Finesilver’s only points of the match came on two escapes and a riding time point, but Berge was unable to escape in the second period.
Bo Pipher (!) and Jason Nolf both advanced to the finals at 157 with falls.
PSU then rolled through the next four weights with Joseph, Hall, Rasheed and Nickal making the finals easily.
At 285, Anthony Cassar steamrolled Matt Voss of George Mason 14-6, but Nick Nevills fell to Derek White of Oklahoma State, 4-0, which was an eye-opening result to say the least.
Still, Penn State pushed eight wrestlers into the finals.
The finals started off strongly enough as Mark Hall used a third-period takedown and a pair of back points to fend off No. 5 Joe Smith of Oklahoma State for a 5-1 victory.
Shakur Rasheed struggled slightly but was never really tested en route to a 4-1 win over Va. Tech’s Hunter Bolen at 184.
Up at 197, Bo Nickal continued his tour of destruction, pinning No. 8 Nathan Traxler of Stanford in 2:09 for the win.
Things got a little bit dicey at 285 when the aforementioned Derek White bullied Anthony Cassar on the way to a 3-2 victory. White’s only points came on a pass by, but Cassar struggled to get to legs as much as we’ve ever seen from him.
The next Penn State finalist was Nick Lee at 141. Lee was pushed to brink by redshirting true freshman Real Woods of Stanford but came away with a 6-3 win.
Lee’s semifinal and final matches showed that he still has a good bit of work to do on bottom if he wants to be considered a title contender.
At 157, Jason Nolf dominated teammate Bo Pipher and picked up the 16-1 tech fall at the 2:16 mark.
In the final match of the night, Vincenzo Joseph again showed that when he needs a takedown he can get one almost at will.
Joseph entered the third period locked at 4-4 with Marsteller, but with under a minute remaining he got to the right leg of Marsteller on a low single and despite the Lock Haven wrestler’s best attempts to roll through, Joseph finished to take a 6-4 lead.
Marsteller escape almost immediately but couldn’t find a takedown down the stretch and Joseph claimed a solid 6-5 win.
The performance as a whole from PSU was far from disastrous, but it certainly wasn’t the team’s best.
That being said, it appears it won’t matter this year as the Nittany Lions are too far ahead of the pack and well on their way to another team title in March.