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Heading into Big Ten Championships, Sanderson Unfazed with ‘Underdog Status’

by and on March 06, 2020 1:48 PM

It should come as no surprise that Iowa has positioned itself to usurp Penn State as Big Ten wrestling tournament champion.

The Hawkeyes completed the dual meet season undefeated, including a 19-17 win over the Nittany Lions. Most of Iowa’s lineup has been ranked in or close to the Top 10 all season.

However, it should come as no surprise that on Tuesday at Penn State’s Big Ten Championships media day, Nittany Lion Coach Cael Sanderson seemed unfazed by his team’s underdog status.

“It doesn’t really change for us. We’re still trying to score as many points as we can. We can’t control any other team. All we can do is get in there and score as many points as we can and, again, wrestle with that fire and if we do that, we like our chances,” he said in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.

“Our expectations are always the same, it’s just to compete with some fire and some enthusiasm, some gratitude, just the things that are most important in the long term. If we do that, we’ll obviously get our best results. It’s the same goal always — to be the best we can be and have fun in the battle.”

Fun is a word long associated with Penn State’s unique outlook on training and competition, but it doesn’t always come from the coaches.

“Everybody’s got smiles on their faces, everybody’s excited. That’s the fun part of season. The hard hard part and the long part is over so now it’s just the time when I try to tell guys to have fun and enjoy it,” Nick Lee said.

“The pressure’s a blessing. Our team, only 10 guys get to do it and the same on all the other teams. So, it’s a very select group of people in the country that get to compete in nationals (and) the Big Ten tournament so no matter what team you’re from, if you’re there, you should be proud of that and try to have fun in the tournament. So, I think the pressure’s there but it’s a blessing, it means you’re doing something right.”

Penn State will take an interesting team to the Rutgers Athletic Center on Saturday and Sunday. Half of the 10 entrants have never competed in a Big Ten tournament. And only one, Mark Hall, has won a conference crown. The pre-seeds reflect that relative inexperience.

Penn State’s lineup will feature Brandon Meredith (14th seed at 125), Roman Bravo-Young (2nd at 133), Nick Lee (1st at 141), Jarod Verkleeren (8th at 149), Bo Pipher (13th at 157), Vincenzo Joseph (1st at 165), Hall (2nd at 174), Aaron Brooks (1st at 184), Shakur Rasheed (6th at 197) and Seth Nevills (7th at 285).

Meredith, Verkleeren, Pipher, Brooks and Nevills will be making their first trip to Big Tens. That fact, coupled with regular-season dual meet champion Iowa earning Top 3 seeds for all 10 of its entrants, installs the Hawkeyes as the favorite to win the team race in most observers’ eyes.

Lee said he’ll impart advice to the rookies when the time is right.

“There’ll be a time to talk about that but you know I don’t want to get in their ear too much. These guys have been wrestling the whole season now; they’ve been in big tournaments before,” he said.

“(There’s) nothing like the Big Ten tournament, probably, but I don’t want them to have in their head that it’s anything other than it’s just another tournament, because it’s not. I just want them to be their best just like any other tournament. We’ll talk to them as it gets closer, if they have questions, but I think they’re ready to go.”

In addition to Lee, Joseph and Brooks, the other No. 1 seeds include: Iowa’s Spencer Lee (125) and Michael Kemerer (174), Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso (149) and Kollin Moore (197), Wisconsin’s Seth Gross (133), Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin (157) and Michigan’s Mason Parris (285).

A complete list of wrestlers and pre-seeds at each weight can be found here.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Andly Elder covers Penn State wresting for The Centre County Gazette.
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