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Nittany Lions' grapplers continue to excel

by on January 24, 2019 9:56 AM

UNIVERSITY — With half of its 14 dual meets remaining and six weeks until the 2019 Big Ten Championships, the numbers say the Penn State wrestling team is doing just fine.

The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 1 with a 7-0 overall record, 3-0 in the Big Ten. Half of their starters are undefeated, another three have only one loss and another has just two defeats. Four Lions are ranked No. 1 at their weight and four others are ranked no lower than No. 10.

And, the team has won 52 consecutive dual meets. It hasn’t lost a dual since February of 2015.

All signs are pointing to Penn State winning a fourth consecutive NCAA championship, which would be its eighth in the past nine years.

And, yet, after back-to-back wins over ranked Big Ten opponents the past two Sundays, the latest a 25-6 spanking of No. 9 Nebraska, some fans wondered why the Nittany Lions hadn’t won by more than 11 over Wisconsin and by 19 over Nebraska.

Head coach Cael Sanderson repeatedly blamed himself for the Lions’ performance against the Badgers, one in which two Top 10 Nittany Lions suffered upset losses.

Against the Cornhuskers, Penn State won eight of 10 bouts, including all six featuring pairs of ranked wrestlers, and accumulated a 24-7 edge in takedowns, even without starting 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed in the lineup. Jeff Byers said on the Penn State Sports Network that Rasheed was “banged up.”

Sanderson said the Lions’ most recent performance was better than the one they turned in a week earlier, but even the coach seemed to expect more.

“You always have to think you can do better. Otherwise, you’re probably going to move backwards. I think Nebraska is a very strong team. Going into this dual meet it could be very close score if we don’t win those close matches,” he said.

“It was good to see our guys win close matches. It was good preparation for them, to be in battles like that. I think we could wrestle with a little more enthusiasm, a little more fire. They were better than we did a week ago. It’s progress and we’ll focus on the positives.”
Before Nittany Lion fans spend too much more energy trying to diagnose the symptoms of a problem that may not exist, let’s examine the facts.

Penn State hadn’t been remotely challenged for two months, from the 52-3 opening win over Kent State through a 33-8 shellacking of Northwestern in the Big Ten opener exactly two months later.

Once the Nittany Lions start Big Ten duals, the competition gets better and the margins of victory usually get smaller.

And, as was the case against Nebraska, Penn State always seems to get a maximum effort from its opponents, especially in the Big Ten.

That’s just life at the top.

Sanderson gave credit to a Nebraska team that was rarely out of position and presented some formidable defense that was at times difficult for Penn State to penetrate.

“They were doing a really good of controlling ties and slowing guys down. I think they were ready for the matches. We needed to wrestle with just a little … whether it’s enthusiasm or more urgency, or whatever you want to say. They’re very solid. Very good fundamentals,” he said. “It’s great preparation for us. It gives us some things to work on all across the board. We’ll take it and get better from it.”
Penn State will be heavily favored in its two road dual meets this weekend, 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25 at Purdue (5-5, 2-2) and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27 at Indiana (4-8, 1-4).

A couple of lopsided wins will probably quell the worries that some fans have, as will something Sanderson said on Jan. 19.

“I think we can do better, but we can’t change what we did now. We’ll just try to figure things out and move forward,” he said.
Yes, the Nittany Lions probably can do better. And, history tells us, Sanderson and his coaching staff will more than likely figure things out by the time March rolls around.

No team in the past nine years has shown better conditioning, technique, ability to score bonus points and wrestle its best at the most critical moments in March, than Penn State.

If that happens again this March, a couple closer-than-expected wins, wins mind you, in mid-January will be but a distant memory.

No. 1 Penn State 25
No. 9 Nebraska 6
(Jan. 20 at University Park)
125: No. 13 Zeke Moisey, NEB, dec. Devin Schnupp, 6-1.
133: No. 13 Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, maj. Dec. Jevon Parrish, 20-7.
141: No. 6 Nick Lee, PSU, dec. No. 19 Chad Red, 5-4.
149: No. 10 Brady Berge, PSU, dec. Jordan Shearer, 7-4.
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, dec. No. 2 Tyler Berger, 10-4.
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, dec. No. 6 Isaiah White, 2-0.
174: No. 1 Mark Hall, dec. No. 9 Mikey Labriola, 5-3.
184: No. 5 Taylor Venz, NEB, dec. Mason Manville, 7-1.
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, dec. No. 11 Eric Schultz, 8-6.
285: No. 4 Anthony Cassar, PSU, dec. No. 14 David Jensen, 10-4.
Referee: John Nath.
Attendance: 6,468.
Ridge Riley Award winner: Jason Nolf, 157 pounds.
Takedowns: Nebraska 7; Penn State 24.
Records: Nebraska 8-3, 2-2 Big Ten; Penn State 7-0, 3-0.
Next match: Penn State at Purdue, 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25.

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