After weeks of speculation, Penn State wrestling appears to be just days away from figuring out the starter at 197 pounds.
Coach Cael Sanderson acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that whoever earns the nod in Sunday’s dual against Buffalo — Anthony Cassar or Shakur Rasheed — will likely be the starter moving forward in the postseason.
“Yeah, probably, yeah,” Sanderson said, when asked if Sunday’s starter would be the one representing the Nittany Lions in the postseason. “That’d be a good assumption. Yeah.”
The heated battle for the starting spot started immediately after Rasheed’s title-winning performance at the Southern Scuffle last month, where Cassar placed third. Cassar had reportedly beaten out Matt McCutcheon — who was later injured — for the starting spot during wrestle-offs earlier in the season, but Rasheed made a strong case at the tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn., when he defeated three ranked opponents.
Since then, the starting spot has essentially been a game of hot potato with both Rasheed and Cassar taking turns. They’ve both amassed identical 16-2 records, although Rasheed has earned a reputation for being nearly a lock for bonus points.
“It’ll be disappointing to whoever doesn’t get it,” teammate Nick Nevills said. “But I think they’re going to trust that the coaches are putting out what’s best for the team. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m glad I certainly don’t have to make that choice — that would be intense.”
Cassar was the Big Ten Wrestler of the Week after his upset over No. 1 Kollin Moore of Ohio State. But Rasheed had reportedly beaten him in wrestle-offs prior to that bout, before suffering an injury that led to Cassar’s start. Despite Cassar’s performance, Rasheed was penciled in as the starter a week later against then-No. 7 Cash Wilcke of Iowa — whom he major decisioned, 11-2.
Rasheed is widely regarded as the wrestler who could most help the Nittany Lions in the postseason, as he’s tallied 11 pins and bonus points in 15 of his 16 victories. Cassar has also been dominant, but he has yet to register a fall this season and has bonus points in just five bouts.
Still, Sanderson wasn’t ready Tuesday to anoint, or even hint at, a starter.
“Nothing is set in concrete yet,” Sanderson added. “We have two great choices there. We’re proud of both of them — happy with both of them — and you’ll probably know before I do, I guess. I don’t know. It seems like you do.”
Nolf on schedule
One of the big storylines this postseason will be Jason Nolf’s health and whether the injured wrestler will be well enough to repeat as the national champion at 157 pounds.
Nolf was seen without crutches, briskly walking into the practice room Tuesday, minutes after Sanderson said he still expected the junior in time for Big Tens.
“Nolf’s on schedule, and you see him hopping around and he’s in great spirits,” the head coach said. “And we still have what — two-and-a-half weeks, two weeks, before we leave for the Big Ten? So he’s still got time on his side, so we’re excited about him.
“We’d like to get him in the Big Ten tournament and competing there obviously. That’s the plan, and that’s what we’re shooting for now.”
Nolf suffered an apparent leg injury against Rutgers on Jan. 28. Redshirt freshman Bo Pipher has taken over for him since, suffering losses in the past two duals.
Sunday’s 2 p.m. dual against Buffalo is the last of the season and, as a result, will serve as Senior Day.
The five seniors in the program are Zain Retherford, Matt McCutcheon, Carson Kuhn, Corey Keener and Ethan Wissler. On Tuesday, Sanderson was asked if he remembered his own Senior Day. So he reflected back on that day at Iowa State 16 years ago — sort of.
“I think when you’re on a mission, you’re not focused on those kinds of things, right?” Sanderson said. “So, if I think about it, I can remember it. But I didn’t go to college to wrestle in my last match. I went there to reach my goals, and I think these guys feel the same way.”