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Penn State wrestling set to open season vs. Michigan St.

STATE COLLEGE — Despite the sweeping changes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced on him and his wrestling team, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson remains grateful.

“I think that’s just something that you have to take time for, and yet you have to discuss it and just recognize things,” Sanderson said Tuesday at the No. 2 Nittany Lions’ weekly media availability.

“The word gratitude is not something (that’s) really taught as a nation, or in sports. But I believe very strongly that’s the key to happiness and that’s the key to success in whatever field we’re in. We have to remain grateful and when you’re grateful you’re going to kind of look for blessings and you’re gonna look for reasons why you can be successful, and it’s motivational.”

Penn State was set to open the season Jan. 16 at Rutgers, but on Jan. 13 came word that the team had “paused all team-related activities due to positive COVID-19 results among Tier 1 personnel.”

Sanderson said the Nittany Lions are back in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex in preparation for the season opener against No. 24 Michigan State at 1 p.m. Sunday in Rec Hall.

“I think obviously we’re planning on wrestling on Sunday. But yeah, we’re at the mercy of the tests. Hopefully we’ve gotten through the worst of it now as we start to get our student-athletes back,” he said.

“But, yeah, at any time, any program, under the rules, could be closed down. It’s a pretty low number, it’s like a 7 1/2-percent positivity rate, so when you have a small roster it’s not difficult to get to that number.”

Roman Bravo-Young, the returning All-American 133-pounder, said the delay to the season was frustrating, but the team had to keep it in perspective.

“You know, it sucks because we’re getting our weight down to compete. But at the end of the day, we can’t dwell too much,” he said.

“People have it a lot worse than us so it’s kind of just go with the flow and just be grateful that no one is really getting too sick from this stuff and we’re gonna be able to get a chance to compete, so just having a level mind about it. You can’t get too high, and you can’t get too low about it.”

Sanderson admitted that the positive COVID tests that led to the pause in team activities was most likely attributable to his wrestlers going home for the holidays.

“I think it was. We had maybe one or two positive cases in the last two months and then guys kind of traveled; we had kids going home all over the country. I’d make the same decision again; it was a team decision, it was something we discussed back in December as a program and it’s what the kids wanted to do and so I you know I support that 100%,” he said.

“We’ve been set back. Fortunately, I believe we’re gonna have our match with Rutgers be rescheduled and so we’ll be able to get that competition in. Just the holidays and spending that time with your family, especially this year, I think is definitely worth the little setback.”

Bravo-Young, who hails from Arizona, confirmed that the Nittany Lions were appreciative of Sanderson’s decision to allow them to travel home for the holidays.

“Listen, that’s the coach you want, right? It’s about the kids. We’ll worry about the wrestling when it comes. Going home for me, it means a lot because I’m from Arizona. It’s a long way and I don’t really get to see my family that much or none of them really get to make it out here,” he said.

“That means a lot to me and like he said, I don’t think anyone regrets going back home or missing a match or getting COVID. Obviously, no one wants it but it’s an opportunity that was decided as a team. So, yes, thank you for letting us get home.”

Now that things are returning to what passes as normal these days for the Nittany Lions, Sanderson seemed relieved to be able to look ahead to actual competition.

“Michigan State has a very strong team. They have a number of individual stars, highly ranked guys, kids that … if you want to win the Big Ten or you want to win a national tournament, you have to be able to beat obviously,” he said.

“Michigan State’s a strong program and they’ve got a great coach and a new energy, especially over the last couple years. You know they’re going to come in here and wrestle great and we’re gonna have to do the same and we’re looking forward to that challenge. Obviously, Big Ten wrestling’s very competitive, as it is in most sports, so it’s just time to go, it’s time to compete and we’ve got to be ready to go.”

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