No. 4 Penn State wrestling has high expectations for this year and beyond
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson has seemingly borrowed a page from the U.S. Army.
In the 1980s and 1990s, “Be All You Can Be” was the recruiting slogan the Army featured in TV commercials. On Wednesday, during Penn State Wrestling Media Day at Rec Hall, Sanderson said that slogan was the goal for his team, no matter where the defending NCAA champions happened to be ranked.
“I really don’t care, honestly, what we’re ranked. The goal for us is the same; it’s to be the best we can be throughout the year,” Sanderson said.
“Every team has its own challenges. Last year we were, I believe, ranked first going in. That’s a different set of challenges than if you’re 4, 5, 6 or 7 team. It’s exciting either way. It keeps you on your toes.”
Penn State is ranked No. 4 in the InterMat NCAA Division I Rankings.
Seven starters from last year’s national championship team return. Of those seven, six are expected to start this year, and four of them are in the same weight class as last year.
If Penn State is expected to repeat as NCAA champion, it will do so with a lineup that features an intriguing mix of proven veterans and promising youngsters.
Here’s a look at the expected starting lineup, as detailed by Sanderson on Wednesday:
125: True freshman Nick Suriano, a four-time New Jersey state champion who finished his career with a 159-0 record, is slated to take over for Nico Megaludis. Megaludis, a four-time All-American and the 2016 125-pound champion, graduated.
133: Sophomore Jered Cortez, who sat out last season after transferring from Illinois, will take over for two-time All-American Jordan Conaway, who graduated.
141: 2015 All-American Jimmy Gulibon returns for his final season.
149: Two-time All-American and 2016 champion Zain Retherford returns for his junior season.
157: Sophomore All-American Jason Nolf, an NCAA runner-up last season, is back.
165: Redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph is expected to start.
174: Both senior Geno Morelli, who started at 165 in the latter half of last season, and sophomore Shakur Rasheed, who started at 165 in the early part of last season until he outgrew the weight, are expected to compete for this weight class. The plan is to redshirt blue chip freshman Mark Hall.
184: Sophomore All-American Bo Nickal, an NCAA runner-up at 174 last season, is expected to supplant last year’s starter, Matt McCutcheon.
197: With the graduation of three-time All-American Morgan McIntosh, redshirt freshman Kellen Stout is the expected starter. Redshirt freshman Anthony Cassar, who is recovering from shoulder surgery could push for the starting job when he’s healthy.
285: Sophomore Nick Nevills will be the starter.
“Obviously we want to win. We always want to win. That’s our goal and that’s our plan,” Sanderson said. “We believe if we continue to improve, we’ll have a great chance at winning at the end. The journey between now and then is exciting.”
Notes: An hour after media day ended, news came down that Penn State had secured the services of another Top 10 talent in the Class of 2017. Brady Berge, a three-time Minnesota state champion from Kasson, Minnesota, announced his intention to attend Penn State on FloRadio.
Berge, who has amassed a record of 234-4, suffered a broken leg in the 2016 state semifinals on his way to a fourth state title. That snapped a 146-match win streak. Berge, ranked No. 6 overall, is the top-ranked 160-pounder. Berge joins No. 5 Nick Lee from Mater Dei, Indiana.
Penn State already has three top 10 recruits in the Class of 2018: No. 4 Travis Wittlake Jr., a 170-pounder from Coos Bay, Oregon; No. 5 Roman Bravo-Young, a 126-pounder from Sunnyside, Arizona; and No. 10 Joe Lee, 152-pounder from Mater Dei, Indiana, who is the younger brother of Nick Lee.