‘I wake up as a national champion,’ Cassar says after winning first title
Penn State wrestler Anthony Cassar has received an additional two years of eligibility by the NCAA but he hasn’t yet made a final decision on returning to school, the senior told NJ.com in a Friday morning story.
“I knew there was a chance I could get zero, one or two years back and I was prepared to roll with it either way,” Cassar told NJ.com. “The school has been working on it for a couple years, so it was great to get two years back.
“It’s not 100 percent right now, but I’m leaning towards wrestling for Penn State next year. Nothing is out of the equation for me, but I’m not looking too far ahead. Not having those four years of starting, it would be nice to have another couple matches in front of the Rec Hall crowd. It’s really just an honor to compete there. I’ll do what’s best for me.”
Cassar — a native of Rocky Hill, N.J. — was speaking with the news outlet ahead of a Monday banquet in his hometown. A street to be determined will be named after the senior once it receives zoning board approval, and a banner will go up in his high school gym, celebrating his national heavyweight title from the NCAA championships in March.
Regardless of what Cassar chooses to do moving forward, he made it clear to reporters during the season — and reiterated to NJ.com — that he intends to compete for a future spot in the Olympics. He chose not to take part in the most recent World Team Trials or Beat the Streets, but one of the criteria for earning an invitation to next year’s Olympic trials is by being the 2019-2020 NCAA champ.
“I thought I could have done well at the trials, but internationally I think I needed to be bigger and my goal is to prepare to be an Olympic champion,” he told the website.
Cassar told NJ.com he wrestled at 228 pounds at the NCAAs. He’s since gained nine pounds, and he hopes to get up to 245 in time for the next season.
If Cassar does decide to return, it would be a huge boon for the Nittany Lions — who watched two other national champs, in Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf, graduate after two storied careers. Cassar quickly became a fan favorite this past season, seeing immediate success after spending 2017-18 working as Penn State’s backup wrestler at 197 pounds.
He finished 30-1 at heavyweight this past season, falling only to Oklahoma State’s Derek White — whom he then beat by major decision in the NCAA finals. Despite this past year being his first in the postseason, Cassar won both the Big Ten and national titles. That seems to follow a theme for the late-bloomer, as his first trip to the state tournament in high school came when he was a senior. And he ended up winning that state title, too.
Cassar’s announcement Friday has been long expected. Penn State wrestling has been mum about both Cassar’s and Shakur Rasheed’s responses from the NCAA in regards to additional eligibility, although both wrestlers expressed confidence at April’s team awards ceremony that the NCAA would grant their requests.
Cassar, who first joined the program in 2014, saw a shoulder injury after high school derail his first two seasons on the mat in college. He was expected to get at least one extra year to compete in college, but Friday’s announcement came as a best-case scenario for Cassar.
Now, the only question that remains is whether his heavy lean toward staying at Penn State evolves into a final decision to stick with the university.