Penn State’s Carson Kuhn isn’t sure how many bouts he’ll need to win this weekend to advance to the NCAA wrestling championships — but that’s just the way he likes it.
He doesn’t want to know.
“I’m honestly not sure about any of that stuff,” he said before Wednesday’s practice. “I’m just going to focus on wrestling my best and having a good time and doing what I can do — so I haven’t looked into all that.”
The Boise State transfer, who enrolled in January, likely needs at least two wins as the Big Ten tournament’s No. 14 seed to vault his way into the top 10 who advance to nationals. Kuhn’s performance is especially important because, if the Nittany Lions want to repeat as national champions, they need as many starters at the NCAA championships as possible.
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And Kuhn is the only Nittany Lion who’ll have to finish higher than his pre-seed at this weekend’s Big Ten tournament to advance. Nearly all of Penn State’s other starters are virtual locks to move on, with Corey Keener at 133 pounds the only other true question mark.
Still, Kuhn doesn’t want to think about all that. He just wants to wrestle — and that’s just what coach Cael Sanderson wants to hear.
“That’s not really something we dwell on,” Sanderson said, referring to how many wins Kuhn needs to move on. “I don’t think that’s something we need to talk to him about. His goal is to go and do the absolute best he can. It’s not to squeak by and barely qualify.”
As long as the pre-seeds hold, Kuhn will take on Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello in the first round. The two met last month, when Kuhn impressed in his first Penn State match by cruising to an 8-6 advantage in the second period — before he ran out of gas and Tomasello won by major decision.
It’s a difficult opening bout, but Kuhn is just thankful for the opportunity. A few months ago, nationals were still a distant dream for the injury-prone wrestler without a home.
He wanted to enroll at Penn State last semester, but transferring credits and other issues prevented his addition. Once he could finally call himself a Nittany Lion, he still needed to pass a hydration test and get cleared by doctors due to his previous injuries.
“It’s been a long road; it’s been crazy,” Kuhn said. “But it’s been worth it, and it feels great to be in a position that I’m in.”
In a lot of ways, Kuhn is still an unknown. He boasts an impressive background — he spent a year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center — but injuries derailed parts of his last three seasons. And, because he came in late to Happy Valley, he has started in just three matches — losing to Tomasello and Iowa’s Spencer Lee, who are respectively ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the nation. He won his other bout by forfeit.
But Sanderson said he’s seen a lot of growth from the redshirt senior in a little under two months.
“We’ve seen some great things out of him, some great potential,” the head coach said. “And he hasn’t really been fazed by the losses, and I think he’s very optimistic.... He’s a confident kid, and he has some skills and ability to score points. And he’s going to make his own way this weekend.”
Kuhn isn’t sure what this weekend’s brackets look like, outside of his opening bout. And he’s not wholly sure what it’ll take to reach nationals. But he said with a smile Wednesday that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s relaxed and ready — even if he’s uncertain what he’ll need to keep his collegiate career going.
“Everything has just fallen into place, so I just got to not worry too much,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I can do, control what I can control and wrestle hard.”