Penn State Media Day 2017: Nittany Lions Ready to Defend Title

| November 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

UNIVERSITY PARK – Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton once said, “High expectation is the key to everything.” Nowhere is that statement more evident than in the Penn State wrestling room.

Venture in on any day and you’ll see David Taylor, Nico Megaludis and Jake Varner, all former national champs, rolling around with the current crop of Penn State grapplers.

That’s the way it was for Thursday’s Media Day. At the Rich Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, the above-mentioned trio offering their advice and skills to a squad that produced five national champions and a national team title a year ago – Penn State’s sixth in seven years.

But true champions don’t care about the past. As soon as a goal is reached, the next one is in their sites. Accomplishment and the process of gaining the objective is the driving force for a winner. At Cael Sanderson’s press conference, the Nittany Lion coach was more than ready to move on from last season.

“I think last year was a year that we’ll remember forever, as a coach, many years down the road, when I’m done,” Sanderson said. “We want to do better than that. We’ve moved on and are looking forward to this season.”

The Nittany Lions begin the 2017-18 campaign right where they left off – number one in the nation with all five champions back and ranked first in their weight class. Penn State goes into the season riding a 31- match winning streak.

“We don’t want to be the underdog. We want to have that expectation. It’s a more difficult position to be in and it’s what you want.” Sanderson said. “It’s easy to be an underdog because that means based on your history your expectations are low. Well, we want, based on our history, high expectations. Being ranked No. 1, I guess it’s good. I really don’t care how we’re ranked. We want to finish well. We want to finish great.”

Eight starters return from last year’s championship squad with 125 and 141 being the only weights up for grabs.

Nick Suriano, in a much-publicized divorce, left for Rutgers leaving a void at the 125-pound slot. His replacement will come from one of four potential candidates – junior Ken Yanovich and a trio of freshman in Austin Clabaugh, Devin Schnupp, and Justin Lopez.

Clabaugh is a true freshman, while Schnupp and Lopez are both redshirt freshmen. Clabaugh had a career record of 149-30 and was a PIAA runner-up at 126 pounds last season for Bermudian Springs.

Schnupp, a two-time PIAA placer, was 156-19 and the all-time wins leader in Warwick high school history. Lopez was a two-time all-state wrestler at Yonkers High in New York and finished with a school-record 139 wins.

“They are all scrappy kids; they are kids that wanted to come to Penn State,” Sanderson said. “We’ll find out as the dust settles who our guy is at that weight class. That’ll be exciting for our fans to see who runs out there next Thursday.”

Junior Jared Cortez, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, and true freshman Nick Lee will battle for the 141-pound spot. Lee, 68-1 and a three-time Indiana state champion, was a cadet and junior freestyle world champion. He will most likely redshirt if he loses out to Cortez, who moves up from 133.

“We’re never in any hurry to pull a redshirt,” Sanderson said. “It’s going to depend on who we feel has the best chance to score points there, and we feel confident that both of them have that ability.”

Corey Keener, a three-time NCAA qualifier, transferred from Central Michigan and will hold down 133 for the Lions this season.

“He’s just a good, solid kid,” Sanderson said. “Real tough in the room, but again we’ll find out as the season plays along.”

The rest of the squad is stacked. An unprecedented five national champions return along with an NCAA All-American and a three-time NCAA qualifier.

Senior Zain Retherford, fresh off a world championship, looks for his third NCAA title at 149 pounds. The Hodge Award winner is the heavy favorite to repeat as the nation’s best collegiate wrestler.

Junior Jason Nolf is another huge favorite to repeat as champion at 157 pounds, while Vincenzo Joseph looks to retain his title after a fantastic freshman season capped by a fall over Isaiah Martinez in the 165-pound finals.

Mark Hall looks bigger and stronger as the sophomore attempts to win championship number two after taking the 174-pound crown as a true freshman. Hall, winner of a junior world title this summer, takes on Zahid Valencia of Arizona State at the NWCA All-Star Classic on Sunday. Hall defeated Valencia in the NCAA semifinals.

Junior Bo Nickal returns to defend his national title at 184 pounds, while Matt McCutcheon tries to earn All-American status for the first time after three previous attempts. McCutcheon is ranked No. 4 in the preseason.

Nick Nevills rounds out the lineup at heavyweight. The Nittany Lion junior comes into the season rated fourth after an All-American year in 2016-17. Nevills faces Tanner Hall of Arizona State in the All-Star Classic.

Despite losing Suriano, this is a loaded squad and the favorite to win another national championship. Ohio State appears to be the one team with a chance of knocking off the Nittany Lions, but it will take a herculean effort to do so.

No matter the competition, Sanderson looks forward to the challenge of being the top dog of collegiate wrestling once again.

“There are a lot of great teams,” he said. “Iowa will have a great team, Minnesota will have a great team, Lehigh’s a great team. We want to face the best competition we can. That’s the only way you can grow and get better.”

Penn State opens the season Thursday at home against Army, who will have former Mifflin County standout Noah Stewart in the lineup at 184.

Category: College Wrestling

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