Penn State Wrestling

Cael Sanderson: ‘We wouldn't want to be anywhere else in any other conference’

Penn State’s Zain Retherford, top, will look to top Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen and the other Big Ten 149-pound wrestlers to defend his top spot in the weight class.
Penn State’s Zain Retherford, top, will look to top Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen and the other Big Ten 149-pound wrestlers to defend his top spot in the weight class. Associated Press, file

Scrolling through college wrestling’s history, it’s hard to miss the huge impact of the Big Ten.

The conference has been especially dominant over the past decade.

“History shows the Big Ten conference does very well as of late,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said Monday. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in any other conference. (It’s a) steel-sharpens-steel mentality. I think that’s great to be a part of.”

The Big Ten tournament will kick off 10 a.m. Saturday in Bloomington’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. And, if history is any indication, fans will almost certainly catch a glimpse of the eventual national champ or runner-up.

Nine of the last 10 years have seen a Big Ten team atop the NCAA Tournament team standings. Seven of those years a Big Ten team finished runner-up.

The Nittany Lions have won five of the last six NCAA team titles. Same goes for the Big Ten race.

In last season’s Big Ten tournament, Penn State had six finalists and three champions.

This season, the Nittany Lions have three favorites in Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (184) — all of which are the top seeds.

For Retherford, who is one of the older guys in the starting lineup, this will mark his third Big Ten tournament. He has been a finalist in his first two appearences with a 7-3 loss to Ohio State’s Logan Steiber — his true freshman campaign — and a 4-0 shutout of Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen last year. He is looking forward to defending his title.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Retherford said. “Anything can happen. It’s a tough tournament so I just got to take it one match at a time.”

Based on seedings, Penn State should have atleast five finalists with Jimmy Gulibon (No. 2, 141) and Mark Hall (No. 2, 174). Another favorite have been Nick Suriano (125). However, the ankle injury the true freshman suffered against Oklahoma State will likely end his Big Ten tournament debut rather quickly.

The Nittany Lions should get nine of its 10 wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, Mo., from March 16-18. However, there is an outside chance they could get all 10.

The NCAA released the automatic qualifications earlier this week. The Big Ten received nine automatic bids at 133 pounds.

Triston Law is getting the call for Penn State at the weight class. He is the No. 14 seed and, if he can wrestle past his seed and into that top nine, he will be headed to St. Louis with just a handful of matches under his belt.

“(1)33 we have to wrestle,” Sanderson said. “We haven’t won a match in the Big Ten so that weight is a challenge. We’re optimistic. We’re hoping to get 10 through.”

Iowa and Ohio State are expected to compete with the Nittany Lions for the team race.

The Buckeyes were the only other team with three No. 1 seeds — Nathan Tomasello (133), Bo Jordan (174) and Kyle Snyder (285). The Hawkeyes had Thomas Gillman (125) as their lone top seed.

Penn State handled both of those opponents easily in their duals this year.

Some surprises could be Nebraska and Rutgers. The Cornhuskers were the toughest test for the Nittany Lions this season. The Scarlet Knights had all 10 of their wrestlers place at the Big Ten tournament last year and return most of that lineup.

“The Big Ten is very strong, there’s no doubt about that,” Sanderson said. “Winning the Big Ten means a lot and it’s important. Iowa is good and Ohio State is good and all the teams have great individuals. ... Nebraska, Michigan, Minnestota all have some great kids. Rutgers is tough. Indiana has some tough kids. Every team has great kids.”

Nate Cobler: 814-231-4609, @ncoblercdt

Big Ten Tournament

When: Saturday, 10 a.m., 6 p.m.; Sunday, Noon, 3 p.m.

Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.

TV: Finals only, Big Ten Network (55)

Radio: 1390 WRSC-AM

Online: All sessions, BTN Plus on BTN2go