The No. 1-ranked Penn State wrestling team is chasing history this season. The Nittany Lions’ winning streak of 59 straight duals is just 10 away from tying Iowa’s modern-era record of 69, strung together from 2008-2011.
The Hawkeyes’ win steak was broken with a 15-15 tie against Oklahoma State on Jan. 16, 2011. Iowa went on to win 15 more duals before recording a loss, leaving its unbeaten record at 84. Oklahoma State owns the all-time record of 76 consecutive dual meet wins from 1937-51. The Cowboys also have a pair of 69-match streaks coming from 1921-32 and 1996-99.
Catching the Hawkeyes, however, won’t be easy. To get to that 10th win, coach Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions will have to survive Iowa on the road in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There’s also several other potential landmines along the way.
To give wrestling fans an idea of what to look for each season, we broke down each dual. As no starting lineup is set in stone, our analysis is based upon the best information we have on each team at the time of publication. All projected lineups are subject to change.
Here’s what to look for in the Nittany Lions’ 2019-20 dual meet season:
Dual 1: vs. Navy (2 p.m. Nov. 10)
2019 NCAA placement: t37
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Kyle Conel vs. Navy’s No. 16 Josh Roetman at 197 pounds
Synopsis: What would’ve been the most interesting matchup — Penn State’s Jarod Verkleeren vs. Navy’s No. 9 Jared Prince — looks like it isn’t going to happen. Prince isn’t listed on Navy’s roster, and a spokesperson confirmed “Jared is not currently on the team.” Prince, who lost 4-3 to Brady Berge at last season’s Southern Scuffle en route to a seventh-place finish, would’ve provided an excellent early-season test for Verkleeren, as he looks to take on the starting role at 149 pounds.
Without Prince, Navy has three ranked wrestlers and returning NCAA qualifiers in No. 12 Tanner Skidgel at 165 pounds, No. 11 Spencer Carey at 174 and No. 16 Josh Roetman at 197. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, two of those wrestlers are up against Penn State past national champs Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall. The third, Roetman, will likely face newly minted Nittany Lion Kyle Conel. The former Kent State 197-pounder shocked the wrestling world when he went from unseeded to third place at the 2018 NCAA tournament, but he missed most of last season due to injury before transferring. There are plenty of questions surrounding how Conel will fare as a Nittany Lion, and Roetman will be a solid first test.
Dual 2: at No. 8 Arizona State (9 p.m. Nov. 22)
2019 NCAA placement: 12
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Shakur Rasheed vs. No. 1 Zahid Valencia at 184 pounds
Synopsis: College wrestling fans have been spoiled the past two years with the back-and-forth battles between Penn State’s Mark Hall and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia becoming one of the greatest rivalries in the sport’s recent history. However, two-time national champion Valencia is expected to bump up this season to 184 pounds. That means it’ll be Shakur Rasheed who gets a shot at the reigning 174-pound national champ.
Rasheed will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing end to his season last year, which saw the No. 2 seed fall short of All-American status, after having made All-American the year prior. Wrestling Valencia hard and putting up a good performance could be the boost of confidence Rasheed needs to get back on track. Either way, the matchup between the two wrestlers with similar body types and offensive drive will at least make for some entertaining wrestling.
Dual 3: at No. 11 Lehigh (7 p.m. Dec. 6)
2019 NCAA placement: t13
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 1 Mark Hall vs. Lehigh’s No. 2 Jordan Kutler at 174 pounds
Synopsis: With Zahid Valencia expected to bump up a weight, Mark Hall is the preseason favorite at 174 pounds. And with Michigan’s Myles Amine taking an Olympic redshirt, one of the biggest threats to Hall ending his collegiate career the way he started it — with a national title — is Lehigh’s No. 2 Jordan Kutler. The pair have historically wrestled close matches — 3-2 at the 2017 dual, 4-0 at the 2018 Southern Scuffle and 6-2 at last season’s dual — but Hall has come out on top all three times. If Hall can widen the gap and earn a statement win over Kutler, it should boost his confidence and tighten his grip on the No. 1 spot.
While Hall vs. Kutler will certainly be the main match to keep an eye on, the Lehigh dual should also provide plenty of opportunities for Penn State’s less experienced wrestlers to build their resumes and get tastes of quality competition with No. 20 Brandon Paetzell at 125, No. 7 Josh Humphreys at 157 and another ranked matchup for Conel in No. 13 Jake Jakobsen at 197 pounds. And, of course, there’s the opportunity to see Anthony Cassar hit another one of his signature blast doubles on Jordan Wood — always a solid source of entertainment.
Dual 4: vs. Penn (2 p.m. Dec. 8)
2019 NCAA placement: t45
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Kyle Conel vs. Cole Urbas at 197 pounds
Synopsis: Centre County wrestling fans might get to see one of their very own come back to Rec Hall and wrestle collegiately as a true freshman. Urbas is just one of two wrestlers listed on the Quakers’ roster at 197 pounds, and could get to wrestle right away. If Urbas gets the start, Kyle Conel will be one of the toughest dual tests the State College Area High School alum could face this year before contests with Princeton and Cornell in February.
Meanwhile, pressure will be on Conel to impress early in the season, with talented true freshman Michael Beard also on the roster at 197, looking for his shot to crack the lineup.
Dual 5: vs. Illinois (7 p.m. Jan. 10)
2019 NCAA placement: 26
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s Brody Teske or Devin Schnupp vs. Illinois’ No. 10 Travis Piotrowski at 125 pounds; Nick Lee vs. Mike Carr at 141
Synopsis: Last season, Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski had Devin Schnupp’s number. Some of the Nittany Lion’s worst losses — including his only loss by fall — came at the hands of Piotrowski. For whoever gets the start at 125 pounds against the Illini, the three-time NCAA qualifier will provide a formidable opponent. If Teske gets the start at 125, a lot could be learned about the redshirt freshman in this bout.
Another highly anticipated matchup would be Nick Lee vs. Mike Carr at 141 pounds. Carr upset the true freshman phenom at the 2018 Big Ten tournament, and Lee has not yet gotten the opportunity to avenge that loss. However, Illinois has Carr listed at 141/149 on its roster, and Dylan Duncan, who previously wrestled at 133, up at 141 (Duncan also wrestled at 141 at the MSU open Saturday). So there’s a chance Carr could be bumping up, and the loss could continue to go unavenged.
Dual 6: vs. No. 20 Northwestern (2 p.m. Jan. 12)
2019 NCAA placement: 22
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 8 Brady Berge vs. Northwestern’s No. 3 Ryan Deakin at 157 pounds
Synopsis: Northwestern’s No. 3 Ryan Deakin is probably relieved not to be wrestling three-time national champ Jason Nolf this year. However, sophomore Brady Berge, who finished two rounds shy of All-American status last season at 149 pounds, is a formidable opponent in his own right. Now up to his more natural weight of 157 pounds, expectations are high for the 2018 Junior World bronze medalist and three-time Minnesota state champ.
The 157-pound weight class is one in which the Nittany Lions could gain some ground on Iowa. Punxsutawney grad Kaleb Young is ranked No. 2 at the weight for the Hawkeyes. Getting to wrestle Deakin could help give Berge some added experience and possibly confidence heading into that dual a few weeks later.
Dual 7: vs. Rutgers (5 p.m. Jan. 19)
2019 NCAA placement: 9
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young vs. Rutgers’ Nick Suriano at 133 pounds; Nick Lee vs. JoJo Aragona at 141
Synopsis: While NJ.com reported in September that Rutgers’ first-ever NCAA and former Nittany Lion Nick Suriano is taking an Olympic redshirt and sitting out the first half of the season, the report left open the possibility that he could return for the second half to pursue his second national title. If Suriano does return, there’s a chance it would be down at his previous weight of 125 pounds, which is closer to the Olympic weight of 57 Kilograms. But hey, wrestling fans can dream.
But if the Suriano vs. RBY match doesn’t happen, there’s another match that should get spectators excited. Penn State’s two-time All-American junior Nick Lee could face highly talented freshman JoJo Aragona. As a 2019 NJSIAA state champion at 138 pounds and four-time state medalist for Pope John Paul XXIII Regional High School in New Jersey, Aragona was a three-time district champion, a four-time region champion and Pope John’s first-ever Beast of the East champion. He also dominated former Penn State commit Adam Busiello in the Beat the Streets freestyle event in May, pinning him in the second period. Aragona is expected to wrestle right away for the Scarlet Knights, and will certainly be someone to keep an eye on this season.
Dual 8: at No. 5 Nebraska (7 p.m. Jan. 24)
2019 NCAA placement: 10
Matchups to watch: Penn State’s No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph vs. Nebraska’s No. 5 Isaiah White at 165 pounds; No. 2 Nick Lee vs. No. 7 Chad Red at 141
Synopsis: It was too difficult to pick just one “matchup to watch” for the Nebraska dual. Wrestling fans should be sure to keep their eyes on both Vincenzo Joseph vs. Isaiah White and Nick Lee vs. Chad Red. White has been a thorn in Joseph’s side since high school, when the Illinois native beat the Pennsylvania product twice — once at Fargo and once at Ironman. At the collegiate Level, White has continued to push Joseph. While the Nittany Lion has won all three of their previous matches, each has been by just two points, including two that went into overtime at the NCAA championships.
Lee and Red have a history spanning all the way back to high school in Indiana. They’ve only faced off once in college, with Lee edging Red in last season’s dual inside Rec Hall. Both of these two matches could easily go either way.
Dual 9: at No. 2 Iowa (9 p.m. Jan. 31)
2019 NCAA placement: 4
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph vs. Iowa’s No. 2 Alex Marinelli at 165 pounds
Synopsis: Penn State needs 10 wins to tie Iowa’s modern-era dual winning streak record of 69. And yes, Penn State’s 10th dual of the season is against Iowa — on the road. Not only is Iowa Penn State’s biggest threat to its dual meet win streak, but also to its hopes of winning its fifth straight NCAA tournament title. The Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes enter the season ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, and Iowa has a ranked wrestler at all 10 weight classes. Without a doubt, Penn State vs. Iowa on Jan. 31 is the one that should be circled on all wrestling fans’ calendars this season.
While there will be great matchups up and down the lineup that will each prove to be critical to the final outcome, it’s hard to say there will be one that carries more weight than Vincenzo Joseph vs. Alex Marinelli at 165. With reigning national champ Mekhi Lewis taking an Olympic redshirt, Joseph enters the season ranked No. 1, and Marinelli at No. 2. While Joseph, as a two-time national champ and a runner up, has consistently placed higher at NCAAs than Marinelli, who has placed sixth and seventh, Joseph has never beaten Marinelli. The Hawkeye junior owns two wins over the Nittany Lion — a 6-4 come-from-behind win at the 2018 BJC dual, and a dominating 9-3 win at last season’s Big Ten tournament. Whether Joseph is able to solve Marinelli might be the key to Penn State winning its 69th consecutive dual meet.
Dual 10: vs. Maryland (2 p.m. Feb. 2)
2019 NCAA placement: 27
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s Brody Teske vs. Maryland’s Brandon Cray at 125 pounds
Synopsis: Nittany Lions’ fans aren’t going to have too much to worry about in this dual. The Terrapins under first-year head coach Alex Clemsen are still looking to find their identity, but started off the season with a 42-6 win over Southern Virginia in the Cavalier Duals on Saturday. While no Terrapins are ranked preseason — with the graduation of two-time All-American Youssif Hemida — they do return some tough competitors, such as junior 125-pounder Brandon Cray.
Teske saw limited action last year, as he redshirted, but in the matches that he did wrestle at the Southern Scuffle, he showed potential. There were concerns last season about the freshman’s ability to make weight, but if he can, look for big things from the Iowa native.
Dual 11: at No. 6 Wisconsin (9 p.m. Feb. 7)
2019 NCAA placement: 21
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young vs. Wisconsin’s No. 1 Seth Gross at 133 pounds
Synopsis: Last season, it was the Badgers — not the Buckeyes or Wolverines — who gave the Nittany Lions their closest dual, closing the margin to 11 points. This year, Wisconsin returns all its key players in Tristan Moran (141), Cole Martin (149), Evan Wick (165) and Trent Hillger (heavyweight) — plus adds 2018 national champion transfer Seth Gross. Ranked No. 6 in the preseason NWCA coaches poll, there’s no doubt the Nittany Lions will have their hands full with the Badgers.
How high is the ceiling for Roman Bravo-Young after a true freshman year in which he earned All-American status in one of the country’s toughest weigh classes? How the up-and-comer does against the 2018 national champ who had been one of the NCAA’s most dominant wrestlers before sitting last season out with injury should be telling. Bravo-Young won’t have the opportunity to wrestle too many other ranked opponents during the regular season, so getting the chance to roll around with Gross should provide invaluable experience.
Dual 12: at No. 7 Minnesota (2 p.m. Feb. 9)
2019 NCAA placement: 8
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 1 Anthony Cassar vs. Minnesota’s No. 2 Gable Steveson at heavyweight
Synopsis: For Minnesota, the “matchup to watch” is a no-brainer. All eyes will be on what could be a preview of the 2020 national championship with Penn State’s Anthony Cassar and Minnesota’s Gable Steveson. That matchup could, however, be in jeopardy, as the sophomore remains under suspension, and has not been practicing or competing with the team. Steveson and teammate Dylan Martinez were suspended in June following their arrests on suspicion of criminal sexual misconduct. Neither has been charged, but the investigation remains active, the Star Tribune reports.
Last season, Cassar stunned the college wrestling world by beating the previously unbeaten Steveson twice. Cassar topped Steveson in the Big Ten finals and then beat him in the NCAA semifinals in Pittsburgh two weeks later. If the third matchup happens, it should have all the excitement of the first two.
Dual 13: vs. No. 3 Ohio State (7:30 p.m. Feb. 15)
2019 NCAA placement: 2
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 3 Kyle Conel vs. Ohio State’s No. 1 Kollin Moore at 197 pounds
Synopsis: Anyone present at Quicken Loans Arena for the 2018 NCAA Championships felt Kyle Conel pick up Kollin Moore, then throw him to the mat. Even Shakur Rasheed, who’s typically dialed into his matches and able to tune out outside noise, said he looked up to see what happen when he felt the thud and heard the crowd erupt. The moment when Conel, an unseeded wrestler who needed a wild card and to wrestle a pig tail match to get into the tournament, pinned the No. 1 seed — then took him out again a few bouts later — was one of the most iconic in recent NCAA wrestling tournament history. But will Conel be able to replicate those results, this time in a blue and white singlet?
While Conel spent most of last season recovering from injury and going through the transfer portal, Moore wrestled another solid year, finishing at the 2019 NCAA runner up to Penn State’s Bo Nickal, and won a silver medal at the 2018 U23 World Championships. But since Conel’s been spending time in the Penn State wrestling room, it’s easy to imagine that he, too, has made improvements. This Feb. 15 dual should help to answer the question of whether Conel’s previous wins over Moore were due to “March magic,” or if Conel has what it takes to beat Moore again. Either way, it should be a fun match.
Dual 14: vs. American (2 p.m. Feb. 23)
2019 NCAA placement: t49
Matchup to watch: Penn State’s No. 2 Nick Lee vs. American’s Sal Profaci at 141 pounds
Synopsis: This will be like the Maryland dual, not much to worry about for the Nittany Lions. The Eagles don’t have any preseason ranked wrestlers and likely won’t when they come to town, either. However, they do have Profaci, who has Big Ten wrestling experience coming over from Michigan. In fact, Lee made his collegiate debut against Profaci two years ago in a dual against the Wolverines. Lee topped Profaci 9-5 thanks to three first-period takedowns. This matchup will again favor Lee, with the expectations of bonus points this time around.
This dual will also serve as Senior Day for the Nittany Lions, and be the last chance for fans to watch Mark Hall, Vincenzo Joseph, Shakur Rasheed, Kyle Conel and possibly Anthony Cassar wrestle at Rec Hall in Penn State singlets.