After a two-week break, the Nittany Lions are finally back.
Penn State hasn’t wrestled since a 44-3 dismantling of Indiana on Dec. 17. And it hasn’t competed in the Southern Scuffle since the 2015-2016 season due to scheduling conflicts. So Cael Sanderson’s crew is looking forward to resuming action in this year’s Scuffle against some of the nation’s best.
“It’s been a great tournament for us. You look at the history,” Penn State associate head coach Cody Sanderson said Friday. “Our guys have had a lot of success there. Even back in 2011, we went down there and the guys performed well. It was a good kickstarter for us to make that run at the first national championship.”
Penn State will have 17 wrestlers competing in the Chattanooga, Tenn., tournament with two others competing unattached. It will have multiple entries at the weight classes of 133, 149, 174, 184, 197 and 285. Add in the two unattached wrestlers — Nick Lee and Jarod Verkleeren — and the Nittany Lions will also have multiple entries at 141 pounds.
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Two years ago, the last time the Nittany Lions made an appearance at the Southern Scuffle, they came away with the team title. This year, unsurprisingly, the expectations remain the same.
“The Scuffle has been a great tournament every time I’ve been there,” said Zain Retherford, who was part of that championship squad. “You get some quality competition. It’s kind of like a Big Ten tournament kind of feeling. It’s two days, you got to make weight twice, and it just shows you where you’re at competition-wise. It makes it realistic for the end of the year.”
Seven Nittany Lions have been to this tournament before, but it’s the first time around for the others. Jered Cortez, one of those 10 greenhorns, isn’t going to be fazed by it.
“It’s just another tournament. I don’t really treat it any different,” he said. “You don’t make it out to be anything bigger than it is. It’s just another opportunity to compete and do what I love.”
A lot of eyes will be on Cortez’s 141-pound bracket. Not only does it include top wrestlers in Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber and Lehigh’s Luke Karam, but Penn State’s Lee is also competing unattached. When the brackets were released Sunday night, it was Alber, Karam and Cortez as Nos. 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Lee came in at No. 5.
Anthony Cassar is another one of those wrestlers who will make his Southern Scuffle debut. He may even have a chance to wrestle teammates twice in the tournament as Matt McCutcheon and Shakur Rasheed are both going to compete at 197 pounds. However, it doesn’t change how he is going to wrestle — even if he was selected as the No. 1 seed.
“I think I always have something to prove. I knew that coming into this year,” Cassar said. “Every match, I go out there with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. I think I’m going to have to do that until the national finals, so I’m ready to do that every match.”
Notes: Others who will sport a Penn State singlet outside of the usual starters are George Carpenter (133 pounds), Bo Pipher (149), Francisco Bisono (174) and Alex Nicholas (285). … When the brackets were released Sunday night, the Nittany Lions received seven No. 1s (Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal, Cassar and Nick Nevills). … Others receiving seeds were Corey Keener (No. 4, 133) … Penns Valley graduate Corey Hazel will be in Nickal’s bracket but wouldn’t have to face him until the finals.