Penn State wrestling left little doubt about its dominance Sunday at the Palestra in Philadelphia, as it put up 192 points and crowned eight champs at the Keystone Classic, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.
The Nittany Lions entered 18 wrestlers in the tournament, giving people the chance to see more than just the regular starters compete — including a couple head-to-head matchups.
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Although nothing was definitively answered, those matchups were able to shed some light on a few lineup battles.
Here’s five things we learned from the Nittany Lions’ run through the Keystone Classic:
Anthony Cassar is a serious national championship contender
The biggest win of the entire tournament came from Anthony Cassar, with a victory over the No. 2 heavyweight in the nation, his teammate Nick Nevills.
Cassar didn’t just win, he did it in dominant fashion, picking up a takedown in each period and wrestling Nevills hard from the top position in the second period, not letting him get out and racking up riding time.
He looked quick and sharp, and as if the approximately 20-pound weight difference had no effect on him. However, Cassar chose neutral in the second period, then Nevills bottom, so we have not yet gotten to see how well the newly minted heavyweight can get out from underneath larger competitors.
Nevills himself had a pretty solid tournament, going 3-1, including a technical fall and a pin, en route to a third-place finish, making Cassar’s dominating win even more impressive.
Even with the release of true freshman phenom Gable Steveson, of Minnesota, onto the college wrestling world Sunday night when he made his debut with an 8-2 win over Oklahoma State’s No. 3 Derek White, heavyweight is still a fairly wide open weight class. A quick, strong heavyweight who’s light on his feet like Cassar should be able to make an impact come March.
Coach Cael Sanderson said earlier that the Keystone Classic would likely serve as the first wrestle-off between the two, but as it’s still early in the season, they’re taking their time in figuring out who will get the start come March. But with his performance Sunday, Cassar certainly made a strong case, not only to be the starter, but that his name belongs in any national championship discussion.
Penn State can’t go wrong at 149
Sunday gave Penn State wrestling fans something they’ve been anticipating ever since Jarod Verkleeren flipped his verbal commitment from Iowa State to Penn State — a public matchup between him and teammate Brady Berge at 149 pounds.
An early injury to Berge’s left leg, unfortunately, made the matchup a bit less exciting than it maybe could’ve been. With Verkleeren leading 2-1 off two escapes in the third, Berge got two near-fall points with only seconds left, to be challenged by Verkleeren. As the call stood, Berge was victorious, but took a medical forfeit in the next bout with Mitch Finesilver of Duke to finish as runner-up.
Sanderson said earlier that a matchup between Berge and Verkleeren at the Keystone Classic could serve as the first wrestle-off between the two for the starting spot at 149 pounds, and based upon that close bout, it seems unlikely that will be the last.
Leading up to that point, both wrestlers had posted impressive performances, Berge with two technical falls and a major decision and Verkleeren with a pin and two majors. Verkleeren then went on to drop his third-place match 2-4. This tournament showed that both wrestlers appear to be pretty evenly matched, and have big upsides. In a weight class left wide open by the graduation of Nittany Lion standout Zain Retherford, either one stands a good shot at becoming an All-American.
Especially if Berge is dealing with injuries — on top of the apparent injury he sustained against Verkleeren, he wrestled from the start Sunday with a taped right knee — it would seem to make sense to have Verkleeren wrestle at least until Berge is completely healthy.
Either way, Penn State fans should not fret, because whoever gets the job in March should have a shot at the podium.
Roman Bravo-Young is here
Wrestling fans who were anxious to get a better idea of what Roman Bravo-Young can do against college-level, folkstyle competition on Sunday were probably left disappointed. With a first-round bye and a win by injury default, the true freshman only got to wrestle two matches, with one of them only lasting 38 seconds.
However, even if not against the toughest competition, Bravo-Young looked good on his feet against Drexel’s Chandler Olson in the 133-pound final, using a variety of takedowns to put up 24 points for the technical fall, and give up nothing but escapes the entire tournament.
Although it’s still very early, it so far looks like Bravo-Young is ready to take on anyone in the field and compete, possibly proving some people wrong (including this author) who said he might lose some early-season matches he winds up winning by the end of the year.
If there’s anyone who believes Bravo-Young is ready to take on anyone, it’s Bravo-Young himself.
When asked at the start of the season what surprised him the most about being in the Nittany Lions’ wrestling room, he replied, “That my wrestling is there. ... I’m ready to go.”
The entire Penn State contingent showed up to wrestle
Penn State took 18 athletes to the Keystone Classic — all 18 scored points for the Nittany Lions, 14 placed, and eight were crowned champions.
The Nittany Lions posted a 60-16 record (two of those losses coming at the hands of other Nittany Lions), including 10 majors, 11 tech falls and 21 pins for 192 points, to runner-up Drexel’s 109.5.
In addition to the champions, Penn State got a runner-up in the medical forfeit by Berge, a third-place finish from Nevills, one fourth, one fifth and two sixth places.
The Nittany Lions were able to keep all 18 wrestlers alive until the consolation quarterfinal round, posting several hard-fought, come-from-behind wins from Bo Pipher, Dom Giannangeli and Justin Lopez along the way. Devin Schnupp, Scott Stossel, Luke Gardner, Pipher, Francisco Bisono and Nevills all picked up bonus points in consolations.
Getting more wrestlers the opportunity to wrestle more matches is a major reason the Nittany Lions like to schedule an early-season tournament, Sanderson said at media availability on Tuesday. It also gives the coaches a better idea of what they need to work on.
“These guys want to wrestle. These guys love to wrestle, and you can see that when they step out on the mat, so the more matches, the better for them,” he said.
Barely breaking a sweat
Popping popcorn, getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop, brushing your teeth, singing the alphabet — these are all things that typically take longer than Vincenzo Joesph’s second-round pin in 31 seconds over Sacred Heart’s Will Schmidt.
Joseph’s teammates Shakur Rasheed, Bo Nickal and Bravo-Young also joined him in getting on and off the mat in less than a minute. Rasheed and Joseph each had three first-period falls, and Nickal two.
Additionally, Verkleeren, Gardner, Jason Nolf, Pipher, Nevills and Cassar were also able to deck opponents in the first period.
Overall, 16 of Penn State’s 21 pins came in the first period. Rasheed only spent a total of 6 minutes and 22 seconds on the mat in the entire tournament — not even a full match combined.
You could say Penn State’s starters are off to a fast start this season — or maybe they just don’t like to work up a sweat.
“5 things we learned” is a regular feature based off reporter Lauren Muthler’s main takeaways from that weekend’s Penn State wrestling action. Read more coverage of the Keystone Classic at CentreDaily.com.