Penn State debuted a few new faces in its home-opening dual against Army West Point on Thursday night. One of those faces was a long time coming — two-and-a-half years, to be exact.
In front of a packed Rec Hall, redshirt sophomore Anthony Cassar finally donned a Penn State singlet.
After redshirting his freshman season, then battling injuries that kept him sidelined for another year, the New Jersey native has been building up to this moment for a long time.
“It was tough. I naturally just really want this,” he said about being patient. “I was continually working hard over time. Two years in I realized, ‘You really need to put this together. It’s been two grueling years of work over time with no end goal.’ Finally being able to be out there felt good.”
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But after beating out teammate and the No. 4-ranked wrestler in the nation at 197, Matt McCutcheon, for the starting spot against the Black Knights, Cassar said he was not nervous for his debut.
“It was more excitement,” he said. “When I got out there, I definitely felt it a little bit. I was just excited. It’s been so long — hard training and getting ready for competition — I tried to enjoy it as much as I could.”
Coming off a New Jersey state title his senior year of high school, then earning a spot on the 2015 Junior World team, Cassar had built up a lot of hype about what he could bring to the Nittany Lions program. But the injuries kept fans waiting.
Cassar’s first collegiate opponent, though, was no slouch. Army West Point’s Rocco Caywood was just coming off a 4-1 run and third-place finish at Sunday’s Hokie Open.
“I wanted a good test,” Cassar said about facing Caywood. “I’ve seen what I can do in practice.”
Thursday night, Cassar also showed people what he could do in a live match, tallying four takedowns en route to a 10-3 decision.
Cassar put the first points up the board against Caywood with a takedown with 35 seconds left to take the 2-1 lead after the first period. He chose down to start the second, then escaped and scored another takedown to go up 6-1. After scoring another takedown in the third, the sophomore finished the match strong with a takedown at the edge of the mat, in the waning seconds of the final period. He finished with 1:22 in riding time, to make the final score.
“It was nice to see Cassar wrestle. It’s been a couple years,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “He looked good.”
Now that Cassar’s gotten the first match out of the way, he has new goals to set.
Cassar’s next challenge will come 2 p.m. Sunday, when he’ll face No. 10-ranked Tom Sleigh, of Bucknell, at Rec Hall.
“I definitely have a lot to work on,” he said. “I want to open up more and believe in my offense more. It felt good being out there for the first time.”