Scuffle a chance to shine, and push Nittany Lions
UNIVERSITY PARK — Since Penn State started competing at the Southern Scuffle during the 2010-11 season, the tournament has served as both a proving ground and a source of momentum for the Nittany Lions.
During that same time frame, Penn State has won NCAA championships in six of the last seven seasons. It also claimed six straight Scuffle titles before scheduling considerations forced it to skip last year’s tournament.
This year’s tournament, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, should give the Nittany Lions a good barometer of where they stand from individual and team standpoints.
“This has been a great tournament for us. You look at the history, our guys have had a lot of success there,” associate head coach Cody Sanderson said Friday. “In some ways, it’s been a springboard for us to kick off the second part of the season. Even back in 2011, we went down there and the guys performed well. It really was a good kick starter for us when we made that run to the first national championship here.”
Penn State plans to take 19 wrestlers to Chattanooga, 17 of whom will compete for the Nittany Lions (125: Devin Schnupp; 133: Corey Keener; 141: Jered Cortez; 149: Zain Retherford and Bo Pipher; 157: Jason Nolf; 165: Vincenzo Joseph; 174: Mark Hall and Francisco Bisono; 184: Bo Nickal and Devon Van Cura; 197: Anthony Cassar, Matt McCutcheon and Shakur Rasheed; 285: Nick Nevills and Alex Nicholas).
The other two, freshmen Nick Lee (141) and Jarod Verkleeren (149), will compete unattached.
Sanderson said a trip to the Scuffle for non-starters is a reward for good work habits on and off the mat.
“We just go through and look at the lineup at the guys who are competing, the guys who are doing things right in the wrestling room, guys who are doing things right in the classroom,” he said. “We like this opportunity to give some guys who aren’t normally in the lineup an opportunity to compete.”
According to a Penn State release, teams sending their full lineups to the tournament include Oklahoma State, Lehigh, Virginia, Northern Iowa, Stanford, Appalachian State, Navy, Duke, Campbell, Cleveland State, Lock Haven, Gardner-Webb, Northern Colorado, Cal State-Bakersfield, Drexel, Utah Valley, George Mason, The Citadel, Chattanooga, Air Force and Hofstra. Teams sending partial rosters include Ohio State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Bloomsburg.
Without naming any names, Sanderson addressed questions about rumors and conjecture that have been swirling around the program.
Some fans have speculated that the Nittany Lions should insert Lee into the lineup in place of Cortez. Those two might just meet at the Scuffle.
Sanderson addressed that situation in answers to two different questions, one about potential changes to the lineup and another about how a good performance at the Scuffle could impact a wrestler’s standing on the team.
“Right now it’s not something we’re looking at or talking about. We’ll see how things go at the Southern Scuffle,” he said. “The way we’ve done the starting lineups is generally it’s the guy who competes the best against top competition. We see that in the Scuffle. There’s always an opportunity for somebody to get in there and show us they can be the man out there on the mat.”
Sanderson then added, in response to a question about a rumored addition to the lineup at 125: “I can tell you that right now we haven’t made any addition to our roster.”
Sophomore Anthony Cassar has compiled an 8-1 record and has ascended to No. 9 in the rankings. Even with that promising start, the 197-pounder still doesn’t seem satisfied.
“I feel like I always have something to prove. I knew that coming into this year. Every match I go out there with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove every match,” he said. “I think I’m going to have to do that until the national finals. So, I’m ready to do that every match.”
Even though Penn State didn’t compete in the Scuffle last season, that didn’t prevent a half dozen Nittany Lions from competing unattached.
One of those six wrestlers was Hall, who was redshirting at the time. He went 5-0 and earned the Outstanding Wrestler award.
Hall said he didn’t know what part that performance played in the coaches’ decision to pull his redshirt fewer than three weeks later.
“I don’t know. I don’t think it played as much for the coaches as it did for me. For me, it just told me I could compete right now. The coaches were telling me that when they were recruiting me,” he said.
Hall said he has a fondness for the tournament beyond the mat. He said he forgot to pack a singlet last year and people affiliated with the tournament found one for him.
“There is good hospitality. They are good people,” he said. “There’s just good people there all around.”
Penn State is famous for its rousing dodgeball games before practices in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. Hall confirmed that the team makes sure it finds a place to play on the road.
“Oh, yeah. We find a way to make sure. It’s our warmup, too. We always find a way to make the sport fun,” he said, before revealing how physical and competitive those games are. “If you get caught, they’ll exploit you. You make sure you’re on your A game all the time, whether you’re wrestling or when we’re playing games. Someone will make fun of you for getting hit in the face in dodgeball.”