For The Expres
UNIVERSITY PARK — With Penn State Wrestling Media Day on tap today and the Nittany Lions’ season-opener less than a week later, wrestling fans will recognize some familiar refrains.
Penn State, winner of three straight NCAA championships and seven of the last eight, will start the season, as expected, the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll.
Seeing the Nittany Lions atop the polls is a familiar sight. However, the composition of the 2018-19 lineup will be different.
Even with seven returning starters, the names at at least five different weights will be different. The most notable change comes at 197, where Bo Nickal will try to win his third straight national title and march to the finals for the fourth time.
“I think that I just personally want to do what’s best for the team. At the same time, we have a lot of guys. Fitting us all in to where we need to be is what’s important. Being able to put the best team out there and be the best we can in March is important,” Nickal said.
“I thought about it a little bit. It’s kind of similar to the situation when I moved from 174 to 184. There are different challenges in going up a weight. The guys are going to be a little bigger, a little stronger. At the same time, I wrestle a fast pace and I know I’m going to be a lot quicker than those guys.”
Nickal’s shift from 184 means Shakur Rasheed, an All-American at 197 a year ago, will shift to 184.
“Shak last year was low 190s, so 84 shouldn’t be a problem for him either. Guys like to compete feeling good and generally that brings a better result,” coach Cael Sanderson said of Rasheed’s shift down a weight.
The other contender at 197 during last season, Anthony Cassar, also has a new home in the lineup – heavyweight.
“There’s been a lot of talk about Cassar going up to heavyweight this year. He came in the week after nationals and said ‘coach, I can’t make 197 anymore. I’ve got to go up to heavyweight.’ I said, ‘OK, (Nick) Nevills is there,’” said head assistant coach Casey Cunningham.
Nevills, a two-time All-American who had offseason surgery on his right shoulder, is expected to be healthy and ready to defend his position against Cassar’s challenge.
So, the top six weights of the lineup are set, starting with two-time NCAA 157-pound champ Jason Nolf, who married Penn State women’s soccer defensive standout and captain Maddie Elliston in the offseason. He will be followed by two-time champ Vincenzo Joseph, 2017 champ Mark Hall, Rasheed, Nickal and either Nevills or Cassar.
Other than 141, where All-American Nick Lee returns, the first part of the lineup remains somewhat of a mystery.
Two true freshmen, Brody Teske and Gavin Teasdale, will battle for the 125-pound slot. Another true freshman, Roman Bravo-Young, is expected to claim 133 pounds.
At 149, someone has the unenviable task of trying to fill the shoes of arguably the best pound-for-pound collegiate wrestler in the country the past two years — Zain Retherford. Some consider junior World bronze medalist Brady Berge the favorite over Jarod Verkleeren and several others.
Three Nittany Lion starters won championships a year ago and another lost in the finals.
Most teams would like to have to answer the questions Penn State has facing it. There’s no question, however, that the Nittany Lions would like to continue their 45-match winning streak and add to the 20 individual titles 11 Nittany Lions have won over the past eight years.
It all gets started at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 when Kent State visits Rec Hall.