Nittany Lions commence 2018 Big Ten Wrestling Championship today
By ANDY ELDER
For the Express
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Cael Sanderson has said repeatedly that he and his Penn State wrestling team want to win every competition they enter. The same applies to this weekend’s 2018 Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
However, Sanderson said that winning the tournament, while important, isn’t the main goal of the postseason.
“Intensity always stays high. It’s tricky, because you’re always trying to get ready for the nationals. That’s obviously the most important thing. You’ve got to get there. Our conference meet is obviously very important to us, too,” he said.
“We’ve been training hard and we’ll come home and train hard next week. Really it’s just sharpening our spears and making sure the guys are confident and excited and ready to go.”
Based on the tournament seeds, Penn State is in a position to challenge for the championship Ohio State won a year ago. Sanderson cautioned that the Buckeyes aren’t the only challengers.
“The Big Ten tournament is a small tournament, but it’s very competitive, obviously. It’s more than a two-team race. Michigan has a great team. Iowa has a great team. There’s a lot of competitive teams in the conference. It’s whoever wrestles great and scores the most points. That’s our goal, obviously,” he said.
While Michigan, Iowa or another team might exceed expectations and challenge for the team title, regular-season results and seeds say it’s a two-horse race.
Penn State has three No. 1 seeds in Zain Retherford (149), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (197), three No. 2 seeds in Nick Lee (141) Jason Nolf (157) and Shakur Rasheed (197) and two No. 3s in Vincenzo Joseph (165) and Nick Nevills (285). Corey Keener is seeded No. 6 at 133 and Carson Kuhn is No. 14 at 125.
Ohio State has two No. 1s, four No. 2s, one 3, 4 and 5 and a 9.
Even with a disastrous semifinal round, by Penn State standards, a year ago, in which it lost four bouts, the Nittany Lions rallied Sunday to finish with 130 points, just 9.5 behind Ohio State. And that performance came with Penn State getting no points at 125 or 133.
The Nittany Lions, of course, would go on to win the NCAA championship with just those eight qualifiers. This year, however, getting 10 qualifiers to Cleveland seems more important than ever because the margin of error seems to be so thin.
“We want all 10 of our guys going to the conference (tournament) to have success. We want them to reach their goals and be happy. It’s important for us as a team. It just depends on how we do at the nationals,” Sanderson said.
“We went last year with, I don’t know how many qualifiers we had (they had eight). I don’t know that we’ve had 10 more than a couple times. It comes down, just like always, to winning the big matches, the quarters and the semi’s, not having any letdowns where your guys aren’t ready to go in the early rounds. We’ve been very fortunate to wrestle well in the big matches and just be consistent.”
Nevills addressed the depth of the conference tournament.
“I also feel like Coach Cael probably told you guys, if you win the Big Tens, I think you can win the NCAAs, I just think it’s that tough of a tournament,” he said.
“The Big Ten tournament is pretty dang tough and it’s just one of those things where I think anyone can win it. At any weight class you have four or five guys deep.”
Joseph, who is looking for his first Big Ten title after placing third as a freshman, said he isn’t worried about perception of his final few regular-season performances, in which twice he was tossed to his back.
“I think it’s kind of funny. I’m really not too worried about it. I’m still going to do what I do. If I can go upper body, I’m going to. Either way I’m not going to stop doing it because I lost twice (in the position) out of how many times. I’m not really too concerned about losing positions. It’s going to happen. You’ve just got to deal with it and move on,” he said.
“It’s exciting for sure. I’m looking forward to it. It’s fun competing in one of the tougher weight classes where there’s a lot of good guys.”
Nickal echoed Joseph’s thoughts on the excitement of March.
“Just getting ready for the postseason is probably the most exciting part of the year. It’s a little different atmosphere getting ready for those tournaments, NCAAs and Big Tens,” he said. “During November-December you have more time to work on techniques, refine things. Now it’s go time, ready to roll.”
What: 2018 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
When: Saturday – 10 a.m., 6 p.m.; Sunday — noon, 3 p.m.
Penn State first-round matchups
125: (14) Carson Kuhn vs. (3) Nathan Tomasello, Ohio State.
133: (6) Corey Keener bye, then winner of (3) Mitch McKee, Minnesota, vs. Colin Valdiviez, Northwestern.
141: (2) Nick Lee vs. Mike Van Brill, Rutgers.
149: (1) Zain Retherford bye, then winner of (9) Steve Bleise, Minnesota, vs. (8) Malik Amine, Michigan.
157: (2) Jason Nolf vs. Jake Tucker, Michigan State.
165: (3) Vincenzo Joseph vs. Mike Sepke, Northwestern.
174: (1) Mark Hall vs. Logan Ritchie, Michigan State.
184: (1) Bo Nickal bye, then winner of Mitch Sliga, Northwestern vs. (8) Brandon Krone, Minnesota.
197: (2) Shakur Rasheed vs. Jake Kleimola, Indiana.
285: (3) Nick Nevills vs. Duece Rachal, Illinois.