With the Big Ten Wrestling Championships coming this weekend at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State wrestling is gearing up for what it hopes to be a successful postseason following an undefeated regular season.
Cael Sanderson’s squad will be a little on the younger side heading into this weekend’s event with six freshmen appearing in the lineup. While this might seem like a concern for the team when the stakes are this high, it’s not something that Sanderson is particularly worried about.
“I think they’re competitors, and competitors rise to the occasion,” Sanderson said. “That’s why they’re here in our program, because that’s what they’ve done their whole lives. You do that by focusing on principles, not on anything outside of your control or what your opponents are doing or what the event might be.”
This weekend marks the collegiate postseason debuts for Beau Bartlett, Michael Beard, Robert Howard, Greg Kerkvliet, Joe Lee, and Carter Starocci. With a combined regular-season record of 24-6, these Nittany Lions are ready to continue to capitalize on what has already been a successful and dominant year.
Sanderson thinks that some veteran leadership from teammates like Nick Lee, Roman Bravo-Young, and even sophomore Aaron Brooks will only help motivate the freshmen to perform up to their potential.
“I think they bring a high level of comforting confidence to the rest of the team,” Sanderson said. “They both have the opportunity to really be great leaders, especially going into this postseason, by simply just being themselves and being the same consistent wrestler they’ve been all year and throughout their career, which they will both do.
“We’ve got some very motivated freshmen as well,” Sanderson continued. “I don’t think it really matters if you’re a freshman or senior, you know, the opportunity’s the same, and you either take advantage of it and get what you want, or you don’t. We’ve just got to be ready when the whistle blows to do that.”
While Sanderson admits that he doesn’t truly know how his team will compete this weekend, he’s optimistic that if his lineup stays calm and collected, they’ll be able to win and hopefully advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Nick Lee, on the other hand, doesn’t have a doubt in his mind that Penn State will be competitive despite a somewhat inexperienced lineup.
“I’m very optimistic about the team’s future,” Lee said. “These guys are having a lot of fun in the room, they bring a lot of energy. They motivate me most days, probably not the other way around. I’m really excited for them. I know there’s some uncertainty about how they may compete, but I know how they’re going to compete. They’re going to relax, they’re going to have fun, they’re going to kick some butt.”
While the Nittany Lions have certainly been successful in previous postseasons, this Big Ten Tournament marks a number of firsts. Penn State is entering the tournament having only competed in six duals due to COVID-19 cancellations, and the Nittany Lions are coming in as an underdog to a favorited 5-0 Iowa team.
“We’re going to have some guys that’ll have to really scrap and win some tough matches just to get there just because of the circumstances of this season and the limited matches and everything that have been the case,” Sanderson said. “We’re excited. It’s up to the kids, each one of them, and the decisions they make and what they choose to focus on and how they choose to compete as to whether we meet our potential.”
Sanderson admits that the Hawkeyes have looked strong and performed extremely well since the Big Ten Tournament last year and have benefitted from returning mostly the same lineup this season. They’ll be tough to beat, but Lee is confident that he and his teammates will compete at the best of their abilities.
“We like to be the top dogs,” Lee said. “It’s kind of weird going in, honestly, not being at the top, but it doesn’t make a difference. We’re going to go in, and we’re going to compete with enthusiasm. We’re going to have fun, and it would be that way whether we’re ranked at the top or the bottom.”
The Big Ten Championships take place Saturday and Sunday at the Jordan Center.
Penn State’s preliminary seeds for the Big Ten Championships (seeds will be finalized on Friday
125: Robert Howard No. 11
133: Roman Bravo-Young No, 1
141: Nick Lee No. 2
149: Beau Bartlett No. 11
157: Brady Berge No. 5
165: Joe Lee No. 6
174: Carter Starocci No. 3
184: Aaron Brooks No. 1
197: Michael Beard No. 7
285: Greg Kerkvliet No. 7