PSU seeks Big Ten vengeance
UNIVERSITY PARK — Not much has gone wrong for the Penn State wrestling team the previous two seasons. The Nittany Lions ended each year undefeated in dual meets and brought home team trophies from the NCAA championships.
The one thing that has eluded the nation’s best team is a Big Ten tournament championship. Ohio State relegated Penn State to runner-up status in 2017 and 2018.
“Tournament time is always fun. Unfortunately, Big Tens have not really gone my way or our team’s way the past two years,” said 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph, who has not won a Big Ten title as an individual. “That’s fine; it’s not like it’s NCAAs. It’s a good tournament. I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”
So, why have Big Ten titles eluded the Nittany Lions the past two years?
“I have no idea why the Big Ten tournament, the last two times we’ve lost it,” 174-pounder Mark Hall said. “I couldn’t really tell you. We have to keep that same mentality like we do at nationals: Bonus points.”
And, according to Hall, they have an advantage that no other team does.
“It’s not too hard to do that when you look over and you have Cael Sanderson in your corner. It makes it really easy to go out and compete as hard as you can for as long as you have to,” he said.
Odds are good that the Nittany Lions can return home from Minneapolis with a team trophy in hand. With four wrestlers ranked No. 1 and another pair ranked No. 2 in the pre-seeds, no team can match Penn State’s collection of high-end talent.
However, each team contributes talent to the deepest pool of any conference in the nation. Nine of the nation’s 10 top-ranked wrestlers and six of 10 ranked No. 2 will be in attendance. Of the 140 wrestlers who will be competing, more than half (74), are ranked among the top 20 at their respective weights.
“The Big Ten tournament is one of the toughest tournaments, probably the toughest tournament besides nationals. I’m sure at some weights it’s probably tougher than nationals. It’s the best wrestling in the nation. It’s an incredible opportunity to wrestle in the Big Ten tournament,” PSU 141-pounder Nick Lee said. “Looking at specific matches is not something I really do because there are so many good matches. Every match is going to be good. That’s kind of what I look forward to is the idea that every match is going to push me to be at my best.”
Nittany Lion 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed missed five conference duals due to injury. He seemed unfazed that he won’t have the benefit of experience against some of the Big Ten’s better wrestlers at his weight.
“I’m excited to see how they measure up against me,” he said.
Freshman 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young, who also missed time with a knee injury, seems to be reveling in his absence of postseason experience.
“Obviously, I’m a true freshman, so I have nothing to lose. I’m just going to go out there, do what I do best and if it goes in my favor, it goes in my favor. If not, I’ll go back to the drawing board,” he said. “I’ve never been there before. I don’t even know what to expect at NCAAs or Big Tens. I don’t even know what it’s like. I’m just going to go out there and wrestle.”
For Hall and Brady Berge, this weekend will be a homecoming of sorts. Hall, who wrestled for Apple Valley, and Berge, who competed at Kasson-Mantorville, both said they expect to see familiar faces.
“There will be a lot of people. I’m excited,” Berge said. “In high school, Pennsylvania might be a little more higher end compared to Minnesota. Minnesota’s up there, but … the fan base for wrestling in Minnesota is tremendous. They’ve shown me so much support when I came through high school. I’m really excited to go back and wrestle in front of them.”
The Nittany Lions talked about the excitement of postseason wrestling. Of course, there would be more of that if a team title came home with them.
“I think the excitement is part of what helps us to be focused. That’s why we train all year. We’re ready to go. With that we’re going to be focused on the task at hand,” 197-pounder Bo Nickal said. “I think when it comes down to it, when the spotlight’s on, the bigger the match, the better that we’re going to wrestle. We’re going to go out there and definitely expecting the team to put a good performance out and win the team title this year.”