UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson had alerted fans and media in the preseason that his lineup would change, sometimes from meet to meet, this season.
Battles for several weight classes, injuries and concessions for some starters’ quests for berths in the Olympic Trials would prompt those changes.
They would be, however, temporary.
A change to the lineup last weekend in wins over Lehigh (23-10) and Penn (33-7) was more permanent and much more far reaching.
Blue-chip 184-pound recruit Aaron Brooks came off redshirt, signaling a season-long change at the weight.
Sanderson said “we felt it was the right thing to do” when asked about pulling Brooks’ redshirt. “If we were going to wrestling him, it made sense to get him out there now and let him go through these big dual meets, away and home, then give him a month to get ready for the Big Ten season.”
Shakur Rasheed had been the presumed starter at 184, but he has been rehabbing his knee since undergoing ACL surgery shortly after NCAAs in March.
Sanderson said Rasheed isn’t done for the season, but when asked if he would move up to 197 said “Shak’s looking good, feeling good, he’s working hard.”
Kyle Conel started the season ranked No. 3 at 197, but has struggled to a 3-3 record and plummeted to No. 20 in the rankings. And considering that Rasheed placed seventh at the 2017 NCAA tournament, moving Rasheed to 197 to displace Conel would make sense.
In the meantime, Penn State rebounded from a Nov. 22 upset loss to Arizona State, its first since Feb. 14, 2015, with a pair of relatively easy wins. The Nittany Lions won seven of 10 bouts Friday at Bethlehem and then eight of 10 Sunday at Rec Hall. And, as usual, Penn State dominated on its feet, piling up a 61-22 combined edge in takedowns in the two matches.
Brooks won both of his matches, starting with a 10-5 decision against Lehigh’s Chris Weiler, in which he gave up a third-period takedown, but otherwise dominated. On Sunday he showed even more of his potential by rolling to a 19-4 technical fall.
“Aaron wrestled really well. This was his first folk-style dual meet in two years? He’s a sparkplug. He’s a guy we feel can contend for a national title at that weight class. With three months of college wrestling, I think he’ll jump a couple levels,” Sanderson said after the Lehigh win, then continued after the Penn dual.
“Well, I think he wrestled pretty darn good. He’s a kid. We expect he’s just going to keep getting better with every match.”
Mark Hall had a milestone weekend that was a bit overshadowed by Brooks’ debut.
On Friday night, Hall put together a dominating win, especially from the top position, over No. 2 Jordan Kutler in a 7-2 decision. Kutler scored a takedown, but otherwise was stymied by Hall. Against Penn, he posted a 19-4 technical fall for his 100 th collegiate win.
“I thought Hall wrestled really well. You’re wrestling the No. 2 guy in the country. He slipped a takedown but that’s good wrestling. Kutler’s been really good for a long time,” Sanderson said.
Hall was already looking past his milestone victory.
“It was pretty cool,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got a couple more wins to get this season.”
Brady Berge saw his first action of the season in the Lehigh dual. The nation’s sixth-ranked 157-pounder posted a controlled 5-3 decision over No. 13 Josh Humphreys. Berge was held out of the Penn dual for what Sanderson termed precautionary reasons.
Penn State is still searching for a consistent starter at 125. Brandon Meredith got the starts over the weekend, subbing for an injured Brody Teske, and after losing, 15-5, to No. 11 Brandon Paetzell of Lehigh he upset No. 10 Michael Colaiocco of Penn, 8-5.
“He fell behind a little early but kept his composure and just gave himself a chance. He had a really nice takedown and just kept plugging away. I think that’s a great win for him and hopefully a confidence builder for him,” Sanderson said.
Another weight that remains unsettled, 149, saw two different starters. Jarod Verkleeren dropped an overtime loss against Lehigh and then Luke Gardner posted a one-point win on Sunday.
Other than heavyweight, where Anthony Cassar was given a planned day off against Penn to train for the Olympic trials, the rest of the lineup remained the same. Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Kyle Conel (197) all started both bouts. Of those four, only Conel suffered a loss on the weekend, against Lehigh.
Penn State returns to dual meet action at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 when Illinois visits Rec Hall.