For the second year in a row, Penn State enters the NCAA Championships as the Big Ten’s runner-up instead of its champion.
There is another similarity between last year and this season — a question mark with an injured wrestler.
The question got answered somewhat, when Jason Nolf actually wrestled in the Big Ten Championships. However, there were still other questions that came out of the second-place finish in East Lansing, and here are a few:
After this weekend, what are your thoughts on Penn State’s national title chances? — PSUSean, Email
When I answered the first part of this question before the Big Ten Championships, I said I’ve felt all along the team race is between the Nittany Lions and Ohio State. But after what I saw the Buckeyes do this weekend, I may have to change my prediction of Penn State’s chances to win its seventh title in eight years. Yes, Zain Retherford and Bo Nickal are still going to get to the finals of their weight classes. However, I’d have to say the chances of the team winning now is changed from 75 to about 60 percent. Yes, I realize the Nittany Lions have nine wrestlers this year compared to eight last year. I get that there are more chances for big upsets in NCAA Championships, but the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country. At times, the Nittany Lions’ big guns seemed to struggle.
Mark Hall cruised to the Big Ten finals but had some problems scoring against Michigan’s Myles Amine in the championship match. Vincenzo Joseph, like Hall, reached the finals but was nearly pinned twice before getting there. Nick Lee looked like a true freshman in his 10-6 semifinal loss to Illinois’ Michael Carr. Shakur Rasheed seemed overmatched against Ohio State’s Kollin Moore in their finals bout. If Penn State is planning to top the Buckeyes, who had seven Big Ten finalists and nine of their 10 wrestlers finish in the top three, they’re going to need those bonus points that Cael Sanderson preaches about.
After watching Jason Nolf wrestle this past weekend, how do you think he’ll do at NCAAs? Is he healthy enough to contend for the title? — Sarah, Email
Nolf didn’t seem to be bothered by wrestling with a brace spanning from his mid-thigh to mid-shin. He did seem a little conservative in situations where he’d typically try something crazy and score. But that seems understandable for someone still recovering from a knee injury. I was impressed with how he came out and pinned his first-round opponent. Nolf looked like himself, pushing the pace and then catching and sticking Michigan State’s Jake Tucker. In the quarterfinals, Nolf racked up 15 points, which isn’t unusual. However, the way he did it, with multiple near-fall points rather than takedowns, proves just how versatile of a wrestler he is. Without the knee injury and brace, Nolf would be highly favored to win another national championship. After what I saw this weekend, I believe he can still contend for the title. If Sanderson’s plan was to use the Big Ten Championships to boost Nolf’s confidence and get him used to wrestling with the brace, then I see no reason why he can’t make the NCAA finals again this year. He should get the No. 2 seed, when the brackets get released on Wednesday, and that will allow him to have “the easiest path” to the finals.
What are your thoughts on whether (Rutgers’ Nick) Suriano will wrestle at nationals? You’d think Penn State fans would be rooting for a swift recovery for him to challenge (Ohio State’s Nathan) Tomasello. — PSUSean, Email
Personally, I feel for Suriano. It seems like he gets bit by the injury bug at the most inconvenient times. We all know what happened with his ankle injury at the end of last season. He didn’t even compete in the Big Ten Championships. This year, he wrestled just one match and sported a knee brace on his right leg. He then medically forfeited out of the championships. If I had to guess about Suriano’s status for Cleveland, I’d say he’ll be a go. The Big Ten Championships was the first time he was on the mats competitively since Feb. 2 in the Scarlet Knights’ dual with Northwestern, so the forfeit was likely precautionary. Also, I agree Nittany Lions fans should definitely be rooting for a quick recovery to help keep Tomasello from getting to the finals to help improve Penn State’s chances in the team race.