Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson spouted off a saying Tuesday that sounded like an inspirational quote you’d find while browsing the web.
When asked whether losing is part of the maturation process for his team, the head coach responded like a wise philosopher — or maybe like a rustic sign at a craft fair: “Adversity is always a blessing. It’s just a matter of what we do with it.”
That’s a fitting way to describe how the Nittany Lions might respond in their dual Sunday against Nebraska.
After an uncharacteristic struggle against Wisconsin this past weekend, where Penn State triumphed by a surprisingly close 24-13 margin, the question of the week is whether the Nittany Lions can rebound and dominate. Or whether Penn State responds to that adversity by taking a step back.
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Sanderson elaborated on his inspirational saying, believing the way the double-digit win was received was a positive.
“I think it is a good thing that we feel like a loss after a win,” Sanderson said. “No one likes losing, but definitely not afraid of it. I think losing always has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt and you are OK with it, then you’re probably not going to make those difficult changes or corrections. In the long run, it can be very helpful.”
No. 1-ranked Vincenzo Joseph is an example of that.
Two years ago, he used the inside trip to stun former Illinois wrestler Isaiah Martinez in the 165-pound finals. He pinned Martinez to claim his first NCAA title. Last season, Joseph went to that trip in the Iowa match and it backfired. He was leading Alex Marinelli, 5-1, at the time when the two were locked up in the middle of the mat inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
Marinelli out-muscled Joseph and took him down and nearly pinned the Penn State wrestler. Joseph lost 9-6. Obviously, after that loss, Joseph went on to win his second NCAA crown — again beating Martinez, who beat him in the Big Ten finals just a few weeks prior. He learned from his struggles, and he was better for it.
As far as team performance, there was also a dual last year that was eerily similar to this year’s tilt with the Badgers.
The Nittany Lions traveled to Michigan on Jan. 12 and came away with a 25-12 win. The Wolverines won the first two bouts as Nick Lee made his debut for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions’ hammers of Jason Nolf, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal all managed just decision victories, even if they did face talented opponents. But it rebounded in a big way after the close win: Penn State outscored its next four opponents 173-20.
Much like last season, Sanderson feels his team will rise to the occasion again this year.
“I think this team is going to step up; that’s what they’ve done in the past,” he said. “The bigger the moment, the better that we are going to compete.
“I believe that. I believe that they believe that.”
Follow Nate Cobler on Twitter for season long Penn State wrestling updates