Penn State’s Anthony Cassar wrestles Ohio State’s Kollin Moore in the 197 pound
Another year has come and gone.
And, Penn State again reigned supreme in the college wrestling world.
After falling short for the second consecutive year of winning the Big Ten crown, the Nittany Lions rallied a few weeks later to narrowly edge Ohio State, with Bo Nickal’s thrilling pin over Myles Martin, to win their seventh national title in eight years, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Although Penn State returns three national champs and seven All-Americans, including one runner-up, from last season, the departure of Zain Retherford leave a giant 126-wins hole in Penn State’s lineup.
However, new, promising young talent in Penn State’s lineup should make for another exciting season of Penn State wrestling.
So, what does this season have in store?
Here’s a breakdown of each dual opponent this year — based on reporters Lauren Muthler and Nate Cobler’s best assumption of starters — leading to the 2019 NCAA Championships at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh:
Dual 1: vs. Kent State (2 p.m., Nov. 11)
2018 NCAA placement: 22
Matchup to watch: Kyle Conel vs. Bo Nickal
Synopsis: Nickal will face a test in his debut at 197 pounds. Conel was the underdog story of the entire NCAA tournament in March, going from having to wrestle a pigtail match to defeating the No. 1 seed Kollin Moore, of Ohio State, twice en route to an impressive third-place finish. Nickal should be favored here, but facing off against the guy who first pinned Moore then sucked him back and laid him out for four nearfall points in their next match will be a good indication of how well Nickal is filling out at his new weight. Conel, however, hasn’t always had the best of luck with Nittany Lions, as he was pinned in six minutes by Morgan McIntosh at the 2016 NCAA tournament.
Dual 2: vs. Bucknell (7 p.m., Nov. 30)
2018 NCAA placement: T 50
Matchup to watch: Garrett Hoffman vs. Nickal
Synopsis: This dual is creating a lot of buzz around Bison wrestling, as for the first time ever, the Nittany Lions will be making the trip up to Lewisburg. Only a little more than a decade after the reinstatement of the program and with a new state-of-the-art athletic facility to boot, Bucknell is looking to boost interest in its rising program with a challenge to sell out Sojka Pavilion for the first time for a wrestling match.
Fueled by the crowd and local hype around the dual, the Bison will surely be looking to pick up a few Nittany Lion upsets, like they did last year when Garrett Hoffman, filling in for the injured Tom Sleigh, beat Anthony Cassar at 197 pounds. Hoffman continued to have a strong season, going 10-6 and winning the Lock Haven Classic, until a season-ending injury in January. If Hoffman is back, he’ll take on the two-time national champ in Nickal this year. Another interesting matchup should be between Bucknell’s Drew Phipps and Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed at 184 pounds. The all-time-wins recordholder at Norwin High School, Phipps went 22-12 his sophomore season at Bucknell, narrowly missing a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Dual 3: vs. Lehigh (2 p.m., Dec. 2)
2018 NCAA placement: 15
Matchups to watch: Scott Parker vs. Roman Bravo-Young and Ryan Preisch vs. Rasheed
Synopsis: With the exception of Ohio State, Lehigh came the closest to breaking Penn State’s undefeated dual streak last season. And even though the Mountainhawks lost three-time All-American and 2017 national champ Darian Cruz, they return All-Americans Scott Parker (133) and Jordan Kutler (174). With Parker and Kutler, Lehigh has nine NCAA qualifiers back and added graduate transfer Connor Schram (125), who was a three-time NCAA qualifier at Stanford.
Although the Mountainhawks are certain to deliver a tough match at every weight class, two of the more interesting ones are Parker vs. true-freshman Bravo-Young and Preisch vs. Rasheed. If Penn State starts Bravo-Young right out of the gate, this bout with two-time All-American Parker could be a great indication of how well the Nittany Lion matches up against college-level competition, and would be a big win to add to his young collegiate resume. Preisch fell short of All-American status last season, but wrestled Nickal to a close 3-2 match last season, pinned Cornell’s Max Dean and defeated Michigan’s Domenic Abounader. Preisch will be a good test of how Rasheed fits into his fourth different weight class in four years.
Dual 4: vs. Arizona State (7 p.m., Dec. 14)
2018 NCAA placement: 10
Matchup to watch: Zahid Valencia vs. Mark Hall or Shakur Rasheed at 174 or 184 pounds
Synopsis: This match will kick off a two-year series between the Sun Devils and the Nittany Lions, the first time the two teams have wrestled in a dual setting since 2001. Headlining the Sun Devils’ roster is the reigning national champion at 174 pounds in Valencia. Although Valencia’s officially on the roster at 174, there have been rumors throughout the offseason that he’s bumping up to 184. Regardless of where Valencia ends up, his exciting, nonstop offense will make that match the highlight of the dual.
Valencia and Hall are 1-1 in official NCAA bouts, with the most recent match going to Valencia 8-2 in last season’s NCAA final. Rasheed’s similarly aggressive offense and body type should also make for an exciting matchup. The talent for ASU, however, doesn’t stop at Valencia. Whether it’s Ryan Millhof or Brandon Courtney at 125, that match will prove to be a test for Penn State’s young talent at 125, whoever that might be. Arizona State also has All-American Josh Shields returning at 157, as well as qualifiers Anthony Valencia (165), Kordell Norfleet (184) and Tanner Hall (heavyweight).
Dual 5: vs. Northwestern (8 p.m., Jan. 11)
2018 NCAA placement: 24
Matchup to watch: Sebastian Rivera vs. Gavin Teasdale/Brody Teske
Synopsis: State College alumni Matt Storniolo has the Wildcats on the rise in his third full season as the head coach. He was the interim head coach during the 2015-2016 season. He’s got several NCAA qualifiers returning for his squad with Rivera being the highlight of those returners. Rivera was two points away from reaching the NCAA quarterfinals last season at 125 pounds. He fell into the wrestlebacks and made his way to the consolation semifinals. Rivera topped guys like Arizona State’s Millhof, Virginia’s Louie Hayes and Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser. For Teasdale and Teske, a win over a guy of Rivera’s caliber could help jump start the second half of their first collegiate season. Don’t forget this will be the first competition one of these two would face after the Southern Scuffle.
Dual 6: vs. Wisconsin (1 p.m., Jan. 13)
2018 NCAA placement: T 17
Matchup to watch: Evan Wick vs. Vincenzo Joseph
Synopsis: With the graduation of last season’s runner up Isaiah Martinez, of Illinois, Joseph and Wick are the top-two returning placewinners at 165 pounds. Joseph and Martinez have held a monopoly over the 165-pound finals for the past two years, so this year, all those returning will be gunning to make it into the top two, and to knock off two-time reigning champ Joseph. As Wick and Joseph somehow avoided each other in postseason play last season, they have yet to face off in a college match. Finally seeing how those two wrestlers matchup will by far be the highlight of this midseason dual.
Wisconsin has an all-new coaching staff this year, for the first time in 25 years, and could easily turn into a Big Ten program on the rise. Although they return just two other NCAA qualifiers, in Cole Martin at 149 and Ryan Christensen at 174, Wisconsin added Oklahoma State transfer Tristan Moran (141) and should show up to wrestle come Jan. 13.
Dual 7: vs. Nebraska (1 p.m., Jan. 20)
2018 NCAA placement: 9
Matchup to watch: Chad Red vs. Nick Lee
Synopsis: The Cornhuskers will bring no shortage of interesting matchups along with them to Rec Hall on Jan. 20, with last season’s No. 3 Tyler Berger taking on Jason Nolf, and Isaiah White getting another crack at Joseph after his narrow, sudden victory loss at NCAAs. But all eyes here will be on the 141-pound bout between sophomores Red and Lee. This dual will mark the first meeting between the two Indiana high school rivals since their highly publicized state final in which Red narrowly bested Lee in 2016.
Red had an impressive campaign during his first NCAA tournament in March, pinning two-time national champion Dean Heil in wrestlebacks, before losing to North Carolina State’s Kevin Jack, en route to a seventh-place finish. Lee then beat Jack to finish fifth. With the Big Ten tournament right around the corner, this matchup should hold a lot of weight when it comes to conference seeding. Nebraska’s Zeke Moisey (125), Mike Labriola (174) and Taylor Venz (184) could also make things interesting for the Nittany Lions.
Dual 8: vs. Purdue (7 p.m., Jan. 25)
2018 NCAA placement: 28
Matchup to watch: Ben Thornton vs. Bravo-Young
Synopsis: Thornton is one of five Boilermakers returning of the seven that they had qualify for the NCAA Championships last year. He is also just one of four seniors on a young Purdue roster, so he will provide the leadership for this team. For Bravo-Young, he’s going to need all the wrestling he can get against collegiately experienced wrestlers in a tough 133-pound weight class. He came to Penn State with an unblemished high school mark from Arizona, which isn’t a hot bed for wrestling. However, not many can say they had an entire undefeated high school career. Although, some of Bravo-Young’s fellow freshmen — Teske and Teasdale — did come close. Should Bravo-Young top Lehigh’s Parker early in the season and then Thornton, he’ll be set up nicely for a higher seed at NCAAs. It will also give the true freshman a boost of confidence with the postseason looming.
Dual 9: vs. Indiana (2 p.m., Jan. 27)
2018 NCAA placement: 55
Matchup to watch: Cole Weaver vs. Lee
Synopsis: The Hoosiers have just two ranked wrestlers in the preseason according to FloWrestling. Weaver and 125-pounder Elijah Oliver. Weaver is No. 12 in a stacked 141-pound weight class that has Lee at No. 5 behind Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis (No. 1, reigning champ), Ohio State’s Joey McKenna (No. 2), Missouri’s Jaydin Eierman (No. 3) and Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock (No. 4). Weaver could end up being the lone Indiana wrestler to be ranked when it hosts the Nittany Lions. Weaver and Lee squared off twice last year with Lee winning both of them by major decision. Lee outscored Weaver 26-8, scoring 13 points each match. The first was in Penn State’s dual against the Hoosiers and the other came in the NCAA third-round consolations.
Dual 10: vs. Michigan (TBA, Feb. 1-3)
2018 NCAA placement: T4
Matchup to watch: Logan Massa vs. Joseph
Synopsis: Penn State chose this dual to be held in the Bryce Jordan Center — and with good reason. The Wolverines finished tied for fourth at last year’s NCAA Championships, and return nearly all of their starting lineup with the exception of Adam Coon and Abounader. As expected, look for the matchup of Massa and Joseph at 165 pounds be the highlighted bout of the night. This will mark just the fourth time the duo have wrestled each other collegiately and could be a top-five matchup.
Joseph has won every match with two of them coming in the NCAA semifinals. In last year’s dual at Michigan, Massa was just getting back into the lineup after recovering from an injury. Joseph welcomed the Wolverine back with a 12-3 major decision loss. Rematches between Myles Amine and Hall at 174 and Nolf and Alec Pantaleo at 157 should also add plenty of excitement to this dual, as will the opportunity to see how well Bravo-Young matches up with last season’s 133 runner up, Stevan Micic.
Dual 11: vs. Ohio State (TBA, Feb. 8-10)
2018 NCAA placement: 2
Matchup to watch: Kollin Moore vs. Nickal
Synopsis: Even though Penn State vs. Ohio State might have lost some of its “Super Dual” appeal from last season with several key graduations for the Buckeyes, this dual remains one of the most exciting on the 2018-19 schedule. In addition to what could be a preview of the 197-pound national championship with Moore and Nickal, this dual brings something Nittany Lion fans don’t get that often — the opportunity to pull some big upsets.
Could Lee pull one off on two-time All-American Joey McKenna? How tough can Rasheed wrestle 2016 national champion Myles Martin? Penn State should hold the edge, with big wins expected at 157, 165 and 174, and 125 and heavyweight no longer gimmes for the Buckeyes. But those questions, along with how Bravo-Young matches up with Luke Pletcher at 133 and Brady Berge with Micah Jordan at 149, add an extra element of excitement to this dual, which is likely to add a good deal of clarity heading into the postseason.
Dual 12: vs. Michigan State (7 p.m., Feb. 15)
2018 NCAA placement: 65
Matchup to watch: Rayvon Foley vs. Teske/Teasdale
Synopsis: Michigan State didn’t have a great season last year, as the Spartans’ lone NCAA qualifier, Foley, went 0-2, leaving the green and white with 0 points and tied for last place. However, Foley returns for his sophomore season ranked 18th at 125 by FloWrestling with wins last season over ranked opponents Purdue’s Luke Welch and Michigan’s Drew Mattin, and a seventh-place Big Ten finish. Although it’s unknown right now who Penn State will have as its 125-pound starter at the end of the season, it’s safe to assume that the match against Foley would provide the opportunity for a big home win just ahead of the Big Ten tournament. Austin Eicher, who spent his freshman season at Northern Illinois, is also a two-time NCAA qualifier, after missing the cut last year. But like with other MSU duals in recent history, this match will provide the opportunity for a lot of bonus points from the Nittany Lions.
Dual 13: vs. Illinois (2 p.m., Feb. 17)
2018 NCAA placement: T 13
Matchups to watch: Mike Carr vs. Lee and Emery Parker vs. Rasheed
Synopsis: The departure of Martinez certainly leaves a large hole in Illinois’ lineup. However, the Nittany Lions last Big Ten dual of the season will not be without challenges. Of note, Lee will have the chance to avenge his Big Ten loss last season to two-time Pennsylvania state champ Mike Carr and Rasheed will have the difficult challenge of taking on last season’s third-place finisher Parker. Last season, Parker went 10-0 in duals, 8-0 in the Big Ten, 28-4 overall, and won seven straight matches at the NCAA tournament in wrestlebacks to defeat Nebraska’s Venz for third. This end-of-the-year stretch — with matchups with Venz, Ohio State’s Martin and Parker within a month’s time — will be crucial for Rasheed in setting himself up for postseason success with Big Ten and NCAA seedings.
Dual 14: vs. Buffalo (2 p.m., Feb. 24)
2018 NCAA placement: 65
Matchup to watch: Alex Smythe vs. Nolf at 157 pounds
Synopsis: The Nittany Lions put a 55-0 record-setting beating last season on a Buffalo team depleted by injuries. Neither of Buffalo’s returning NCAA qualifiers — Bryan Lantry (133) or Jake Gunning (heavyweight) — wrestled in that dual. The Bulls also have a weapon in Smythe at 157, who upset Wisconsin’s Wick to make the U23 World Team in June. However, Penn State should still be heavily favored in this dual, and has the potential to pitch another shutout. As this will be Senior Night for the Nittany Lions, look for Nolf to put on a show in his final Rec Hall dual.