Penn State’s wrestling room is considered by some to be one of the best training rooms in the country.
It has Olympic flair with coaches Cael Sanderson and Jake Varner, and competitors Frank Molinaro and Franklin Gomez. It has numerous NCAA champions in David Taylor, Matt Brown and Nico Megaludis. Adding to the talent in the room are top recruits and standout freshmen like Mark Hall and Nick Suriano.
On Tuesday, members of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and a handful of current Nittany Lions participated in a training session with another Olympic gold medalist — Brandon Slay. Slay is the executive director and head coach of the United States Wrestling’s Pennsylvania Regional Training Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
When you have all that talent in one room, you’d think there would be tons of pressure to be at your best all the time.
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“There’s always going to be pressure in this room or wherever you’re at,” he said. “Pressure comes with any sport. I need to compete my best when I wrestle out there regardless. That doesn’t bother me at all.”
Rasheed is in a battle with Geno Morelli again this season for a starting spot in Penn State’s lineup. This time it is at 174 pounds. The two competed all last season at 165 pounds with Rasheed getting a bulk of the dual starts. As the season continued, Morelli cracked the starting lineup in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center dual with Wisconsin in December.
He seemed to be more effective than Rasheed, as Rasheed struggled to cope with the weight cut. In the end, Morelli ended up being the Nittany Lions’ starter for the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.
Fast forward to this year.
Morelli started the first two duals for the Nittany Lions with two wins. He and Rasheed dominated their way through the weight class at the Keystone Classic and squared off in the finals. Rasheed was the 2-1 winner in a match that lasted 11 minutes and didn’t end until the second set of tie-breaker periods.
Rasheed started in Penn State’s dual on Sunday against Lehigh. He suffered a 6-3 loss to No. 19 Ryan Preisch.
“There is a lot to take away from it,” Rasheed said of the setback. “I was more focused on just going because I can do that now. I was sloppy. I wasn’t doing what we train in the room. I wasn’t technical.”
This year, things seem like they will be the same. Sanderson might not know who his starter will be for the weight class until near the end of the season.
“Eventually, here, we will go with somebody and make that decision,” Sanderson said. “I don’t think we are at that point yet. They both have chances to take advantage of an opportunity. If Geno goes out and beats Shakur convincingly at the Keystone Classic, he’s probably got the nod, right? If Shakur goes out there and has a great performance against Lehigh, well then maybe you start leaning toward him. They are both back and forth and All-American candidates and potential.”
With all the competition in the room, an outsider might think two guys competing in the same weight class may dislike each other. However, when you’re part of a team those types of feelings get put aside. Everyone is willing to do what is best for the team.
“When it comes to tournaments and we have to wrestle, we are going to treat it like a competition,” Rasheed said of his relationship with Morelli. “We are going to be competitors and bump heads. In the locker room, we talk like anybody else. We act like none of that even happened. We know that comes with it. You can’t be hostile against it. We are teammates. We all love each other.”
Going through the ranks
Every Tuesday, the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association Top 25 poll comes out and so does Intermat’s individual rankings.
The Nittany Lions haven’t been able to surpass Oklahoma State for No. 1 yet in the team rankings. Iowa, Ohio State and Missouri finish out the top 5 in No. 3, 4 and 5, respectively.
As for Penn State’s individual wrestlers:
At the top: Zain Retherford (149) and Jason Nolf (157)
Moving up: Bo Nickal to No. 2 at 184 pounds as Ohio State’s Myles Martin suffered a setback to Virginia Tech’s Zach Zavatsky at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas last weekend. Nickal sits behind Cornell’s Gabe Dean. Nick Suriano (No. 4, 125) and Vincenzo Joseph (No. 9, 165)
Staying put: Matt McCutcheon (No. 13, 197)
Slipping down: Jered Cortez (No. 15, 133), Jimmy Gulibon (No. 13, 141), Rasheed (No. 14, 174) and Nick Nevills (No. 8, 285)
USA Today/NWCA Top 25 Poll
1. Oklahoma State
2. Penn State
4. Ohio State
6. Virginia Tech
9. N.C. State
14. C. Michigan
19. Arizona St.
20. S. Dakota St.
21. N. Iowa
22. App. State
Others receiving votes: North Carolina 8, Wyoming 7, Chattanooga 6, Princeton 4, Oregon State 3, Edinboro 2