‘I wake up as a national champion,’ Cassar says after winning first title
After receiving two additional years of eligibility from the NCAA, defending national champ Anthony Cassar announced Friday that he’s returning to Penn State for at least one more season.
Cassar, a soon-to-be sixth-year senior, announced last week that the NCAA granted him the extra years after a shoulder injury derailed his first two college seasons. But, at the time, he also said he wasn’t yet 100 percent certain on returning.
That changed Friday, when his heavy lean toward coming back became definitive.
“After much thought and prayer, I’ve decided that I will be returning for another year of college wrestling as I prepare for the 2020 Olympic trials,” Cassar wrote on Instagram. “Let’s run it back!”
Cassar, a heavyweight, has made no secret that his ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics. Even before winning the national title in March, he told reporters he was seriously considering a return to Penn State to sharpen his skills on the mat and increase his chances at earning a spot on the Olympic team. And one of the criteria for earning an invitation to next year’s trials just so happens to be by earning a 2019-2020 NCAA individual wresting title.
The New Jersey native eschewed several competitions this year, including the World Team Trials and Beat the Streets, so he can focus on training.
“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 NJ.com last week.
Cassar has reportedly gained nine pounds since the NCAAs and is up to about 237 pounds. He hopes to get up to 245 in time for the next season.
Cassar was one of the biggest stories of the college wrestling world this past year, because of his surprising history. The late-bloomer started the 2017-18 season as the second or third option at 197 pounds and didn’t even earn the chance to compete in the postseason. In the offseason, he bulked up and moved to heavyweight — and his success was immediate.
The Penn State senior 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. Which seemed only natural for Cassar, since 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.
The heavyweight gives the Nittany Lions’ national title hopes a huge boost. With the graduation of all-time greats Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf, Penn State likely wouldn’t have been able to claim the preseason title of heavy favorite. But with several talented up-and-comers such as Aaron Brooks, veterans like Mark Hall, Vincenzo Joseph and Nick Lee, and the returning champ in Cassar, Penn State is once again poised to continue its stranglehold on the national title.
The Nittany Lions have won eight of the past nine national championships, including the last four. They’ve also won 59 consecutive duals.
And Cassar’s announcement Friday was yet another big win for Penn State.