Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed did not have the performance he expected out of himself at his first Big Ten Wrestling Championship last week in East Lansing, Mich.
Although he took second place in one of the NCAA’s most competitive conferences, the junior scored bonus points in only one of four matches, which was a change of pace for a guy who had up to that point scored bonus in 16 out of 19 bouts this season.
Rasheed was visibly frustrated after being held to just a decision by a winless Jake Kleimola of Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The frustration built as Rasheed, the No. 2 seed, was again held to a regular decision by No. 7 Zack Chakonis of Northwestern in the quarterfinals. Rasheed then seemed to loosen a bit in the later half of the tournament, scoring a major decision in the semifinals, and wrestling a tough match against Ohio State’s No. 1 Kollin Moore in the finals.
The key to that change, Rasheed said at practice Monday at Rec Hall, is that he tried to take some of the pressure of high expectations off himself and just focus on what he enjoys best — wrestling and having fun.
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“Yeah, I was very tense,” he said. “I kind of fell into all the stuff that people were saying on the outside, like I’m a bonus-point guy and things like that, and I focused on that too much, and I realized I needed to just have fun. I took the tournament way too seriously, and then I realized ‘just have fun,’ so I kind of relaxed Sunday because I was like, ‘just go out there and dance around and have fun,’ and it helped out a lot.”
The Coram, N.Y., native certainly seemed to be having more fun Monday, trying to hold back laughter while talking to the media as teammate Vincenzo Joseph teased him from the stands, although he said putting the past disappointment behind him wasn’t necessarily easy. With somewhat of a quick turnaround between the conference tournament and the biggest show in college wrestling — the NCAA championships starting Thursday in Cleveland — Rasheed has seemingly moved on.
“It is definitely hard, especially when you go into a tournament and you only expect to win, and that’s not the outcome. So it’s hard, but we’ve had 10 days now between ... and it’s kinda like, you just got to get over it, you know? Everybody’s human,” he said. “All it did was remind me that I’m human and I can’t be perfect out there. You just gotta have fun.”
Cael Sanderson is not concerned about his 197-pound wrestler as he and his Nittany Lions look to win their seventh national title in the past eight years.
“Well, yeah I think he (Rasheed) wasn’t real pleased with himself but he still took second in the Big Ten, which is pretty good,” Sanderson said. “But like I said before, I think those losses kind of give you clarity and I think you focus more on what you want opposed to maybe something you don’t want, and there’s a big difference between those two perspectives — and I expect Shak to wrestle well. I think he’ll be a little bit more loose and relaxed than we was at the Big Ten (tournament).”
Aside from little bit more of a carefree demeanor than what he had last week, there was another noticeable difference about Rasheed — his nearly shoulder-length dark, curly hair was secured under a black skull cap.
The hair flying around during matches as he locked up cradles on his opponents has led to one of his popular nicknames — Tarzan.
“My coaches said to cut it, and I was like all right, and I was like, actually no, I’ve been working on this for a long time, so I bought this thing right here,” he said pointing to the cap. “Yeah, I don’t really like it, but I got to wear it. I’ll cut my hair eventually but I feel like it’s not right to cut it yet — just not feeling it.”
Rasheed will experience his first NCAA tournament this week, after injuries kept him at home previous years. As the No. 5 seed, he’ll have a rough path to the finals. If he makes it to the quarterfinals, he’ll face No. 4 Mike Macchiavello of North Carolina State. The Wolfpack wrestler upset No. 1 Moore in the the two teams’ last dual of the season, handing the Buckeye his second loss of the season — after Nittany Lion Anthony Cassar took him out in their dual in February. If Rasheed gets past Macchiavello, he’ll be set up for a rematch with Moore.
But Rasheed, who says he doesn’t look at tape from, or dwell on, past matches, isn’t worrying too much about what he could or should have done in that last match.
“It wasn’t the outcome I wanted, or for our team obviously, but in the past, nationals is where we shine,” he said. “So, I just gotta get ready for that and get in the right mindset and everything. And I’m feeling ready.”