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Why the Keystone Classic matters for Penn State wrestling

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson discusses Keystone Classic plans

Penn State Wrestling Coach Cael Sanderson discusses plans for who will be wrestling for Nittany Lions at this weekend’s Keystone Classic in Philadelphia.
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Penn State Wrestling Coach Cael Sanderson discusses plans for who will be wrestling for Nittany Lions at this weekend’s Keystone Classic in Philadelphia.

The Keystone Classic is in its 23rd year of existence. However, the early-season wrestling tournament hosted by the University of Pennsylvania inside the famed Palestra in Philadelphia has only had Penn State’s presence the last three years.

“We’ve really enjoyed the tournament the past couple years we’ve been there,” said Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson. “I know our fans enjoy it, a quick trip and UPenn does a really nice job with it.”

Penn State has dominated in its first two trips.

Last year, the Nittany Lions crowned seven individual champions and won the team race by 34 points. The first year in the tournament Penn State obliterated the field with 10 finalists in nine weights and racked up 245 team points, with its margin of victory at 123.5 points.

This year, it doesn’t look to be any different with the Nittany Lions taking on the Quakers, Appalachian State, Drexel, Duke, Franklin & Marshall, Harvard, Rider, Sacred Heart and VMI.

So, why do they continue to go back?

“It gives these guys a chance to run through a tournament-type of bracket,” Sanderson said. “The more we wrestle, the more we figure out what we need to work on and what we need to move forward.”

None of the other teams listed to compete are wrestling powerhouses. However, Sanderson feels there will still be “solid competition” so early in the year.

He went on to explain that it isn’t who his guys take on but how they compete.

“Honestly, I’m not a coach where I sit and go through who we have,” Sanderson explained, “so I wouldn’t even tell you which weight classes are most competitive. I’m more worried about our guys getting better today, getting better tomorrow. When we show up at the Keystone, it doesn’t really matter who we wrestle, we expect the same thing, and that’s just our best effort and an open mindset to improve.”

Shakur Rasheed competed in the Keystone Classic when the Nittany Lions made their debut two years ago. Rasheed cruised to the 174-pound finals thanks to two pins and a technical fall.

He topped then-teammate Geno Morelli 2-1, and used an escape with four seconds remaining in the second tie-breaker.

This year’s outlook for Rasheed is the same as Sanderson’s: competition is competition.

“I think it’s really good for our guys, especially the younger ones, to get more matches under their belt,” Rasheed said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you are going to have a little bit of rustiness in there from taking a summer off. It’s all one step at a time. We have an amazing schedule this year. Everything going forward is prepping us for the next match and the whole picture ... nationals.”

Anthony Cassar wrestled last year at 197 pounds but, of course, this year he is up a weight class. He rolled to the 197-pound crown last year and took out then-teammate Matt McCutcheon in the semifinals to reach the championship match.

Cassar even admitted that after last year’s tournament he made a “big leap” in his wrestling. This year he may have to take out another teammate in Nick Nevills for the 285-pound crown, but he’s going to look to make his next leap in the new weight class.

“I think getting experience at a new weight class,” said Cassar, when asked what he is looking to get out of this year’s Keystone Classic. “I’m excited to get out there, feel those bigger dudes and work on some of the stuff I’m working on.”

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Penn State at Keystone Classic

When: 10 a.m., Sunday

Where: The Palestra, Philadelphia

Radio: ESPN Radio 1450 AM

Online: ESPN+

Nittany Lions competing (as of Wednesday)
125: Devin Schnupp (0-1), Justin Lopez (2-2)
133: Roman Bravo-Young (1-0), Scott Stossel (0-0)
141: No. 4 Nick Lee (1-0), Dominic Giannangeli (1-2)
149: Jarod Verkleeren (1-0), No. 15 Brady Berge (0-0), Luke Gardner (4-2)
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (1-0), Bo Pipher (2-2)
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (1-0)
174: No. 2 Mark Hall (1-0), Mason Manville (3-2)
184: No. 4 Shakur Rasheed (1-0), Francisco Bisono (0-0)
197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (1-0), James Hoeg (1-2)
285: Anthony Cassar (1-0), No. 2 Nick Nevills (0-0)
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