Two months after 125-pound sophomore sensation Nick Suriano transferred to Rutgers, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson finally addressed the topic for the first time Thursday — and said he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“You have a season-ending injury, that is a tough deal,” the coach said during wrestling media day inside Rec Hall. “I’m very confident in our staff and support staff. If the same thing happened again, we would treat it the same way again. We’re happy with the guys that are on our team and want to be here. We moved forward a long time ago.”
Suriano was 17-1 and cruising through his freshman campaign last year before suffering an ankle injury in the Nittany Lions’ February dual with Oklahoma State. The injury forced Suriano out of the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
He was granted a waiver from the Big Ten to participate immediately for the Scarlet Knights.
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“I wasn’t happy there,” Suriano said in an earlier report to NJ.com. “I found through a tragic time with my injury and the way my season ended, I wasn’t happy with how things were dealt with. I’m not going to get into it. For the critics, it’s none of their business.”
According to Sanderson, three freshmen — Austin Clabaugh, Devin Schnupp and Justin Lopez — are vying to take over the 125-pound spot this year. And, despite the first match taking place Thursday against Army, the starter is still not decided.
“They are all scrappy kids; they are kids that wanted to come to Penn State,” Sanderson said. “We’ll find out as the dust settles who our guy is at that weight class. That’ll be exciting for our fans to see who runs out there next Thursday.”
Clabaugh is a true freshman, while Schnupp and Lopez are both redshirt freshmen.
Clabaugh had a high school record of 149-30 and was a PIAA runner-up at 126 pounds last season for Bermudian Springs. He was also named the York-Adams Wrestler of the Year, finishing his senior season with a 41-4 record.
“That obviously is a big goal for me,” Clabaugh said, referring to being the starter at 125. “It is totally up to the coaches, but we are in here working hard. We’re all part of the team.”
Schnupp went 5-8 last year in his redshirt campaign with one pin while wrestling unattached. As a high school athlete, he was 156-19 — the winningest wrestler in Warwick High history —and was a two-time PIAA place-winner. Lopez, a native of Yonkers, N.Y., was a two-time all-state wrestler at Yonkers High and finished with a school-record 139 wins.
“It means the world to me,” Lopez said of the possibly starting. “I’m excited to showcase what I’ve been working on for a year and a half. This room has gotten me a lot better. I’m just ready to show the world what I can do.”
For several years, Penn State never had to worry about a new face coming on to the mat first, as Nico Megaludis was a mainstay as a four-year starter. The Nittany Lions expected the same thing when Suriano began last year. Now, the defending national champions are looking for the next anchor of the weight class.
But one thing isn’t changing: Sanderson’s stance on starting at the 125-pound weight class in duals.
“We’ll stick with what we’ve always done. We have a roster of 10,” he said. “The way they compete at nationals, they start at the beginning and work their way up, so that’s kind of been our philosophy. The bouncing around and drawing weights, you see that a lot. Maybe a coach is trying to do something and find an advantage. We don’t want to go there or play that game. It’s just easier to, ‘Let’s roll the way the national tournament and conference championship do.’”