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So I Went To My First Penn State Wrestling Dual Meet, Or Is It Match?

by on December 14, 2018 9:40 PM

It's something I had never thought about until I was waiting in line outside Rec Hall on Friday night. How come there aren't more kids in Beaver Stadium?

In reality I know the answer to that. Tickets are too expensive to take an eight-year-old so he/she can get lost in the crowd when you were waiting RIGHT HERE outside the bathroom 10 minutes before kickoff.

But they're all over the place at Rec Hall. Sons holding their dad's hand as they eagerly find their seats. There was a little girl enthusiastically cheering on Penn State wrestlers by name. It felt like a family affair, young and old, rich and not so rich. All there to watch some of the most talented wrestlers on the planet.

It's ironic in a world that puts such an emphasis on having the best facilities possible that Rec Hall exists largely unchanged while housing maybe the most successful wrestling program ever. One of the main apparel shops may as well have been a broom closet cut into the wall. There are no flashy lights, no over-saturation of brands. It's pretty much just wrestling and if you want a shirt well Sharon has them over there.

That's fitting in a way though, wrestling is one of the oldest sports humans have played, and like soccer it requires next to no equipment to actually do. There is something primal and very natural about nothing more than a test of physical strength. It's a reminder that we are not in fact all that different from the rest of the animals roaming the Earth.

I'm burying the lede here a little bit. Until Friday night I had never been to a Penn State wrestling dual. I've watched plenty on TV, it's hard to cover Penn State athletics and just not pay attention to the most successful team in town, but I had never made my way into Rec Hall to see it in person.

So, since I had the time and the urge, I fired up StubHub and got myself a ticket.

The other thing here is that I don't know that much about wrestling. I understand the scoring -sort of- and I've watched enough MMA in my life to grasp the basics of a ground game. I know what riding time is and I sort of understand takedowns. I've talked to Cael Sanderson a few times on the Coaches Caravan back in the day but he mostly looked at me like he was looking right through me. 

In turn, I was going as maybe the least informed person in the room. The lady behind me regularly yelled "shoot" which I assumed was not a reference to hockey but rather working towards an attempted takedown. Or as was the case on Friday, avoiding yet another stall warning.

I got to Rec Hall early, mostly to avoid climbing over people that had probably spent more money than I had to get in. As the least knowledgeable person in the room, I wanted to also be the least annoying.

Which brings me to phones.

I am not by any stretch an anti-phone person. I spend a lot of time on my phone, I "go to bed" at 11 to look at my phone until 1. It's not a good thing, but it's something that just is what it is.

But phones simply weren't a thing on Friday night. Nobody was snapping a picture in the middle of a match, there were no random flashes going off. I felt ashamed to check Twitter while things were going on. I just kept to myself.

As it pertains to the event itself, Penn State, as per tradition, gave up three points as a team all night. For as good as Arizona State is relative to the rest of the world (judging by their #15 ranking) there were few moments where [Insert Penn State wrestlers' name here] looked that concerned.

Even the ball of muscle Mark Hall, who avenged his national title loss on Friday night, made his "upset" of Zahid Valencia look somewhat routine. He celebrated an hour or so later by crushing a pizza a few miles from Rec Hall, as one does. 

Bo Nickal had places to be, that's a pin.

Vincenzo Joseph had little trouble. Same with Shakur Rasheed.

Anthony Cassar flipped some poor man on his head and then pinned him to end the night. I respect that.

All the while Cael Sanderson looked on just bouncing his right leg up and down. He hardly spoke. Half the matches he got up and walked away from in the final seconds. Meanwhile across the mat Arizona State's coach shouted and gesticulated much to delight of the crowd. It was hard to blame him, his team came across the country to get sat on and thrown around. Somebody had to put up a fight. By the end he was slumped in his chair, half-heartedly yelling commands that didn't make a difference.

People will be able to tell you what happened in a technical sense better than I, because seeing something you only sort of understand in person doesn't really make you any more of expert.

But as someone who has never been to Rec Hall for wrestling, who has never seen Penn State wrestling in person I do know one thing. You might not find a more dominant program or a better atmosphere than that.

And I'm glad so many kids got to see it, because sports shouldn't be just for whoever can afford them. I'm glad the t-shirts are sold from a closet, because not everything has to be state-of-the-art.

If nothing else, I'm glad sports were just sports for once.

So maybe I'll go back.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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