Young Penn State wrestling roster opens season with typically great expectations
Penn State opens the wrestling season Friday at Rutgers, and veteran coach Cael Sanderson said a starting lineup has yet to be decided.
The Nittany Lions enter the season ranked No. 2 in the nation according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association and are coming off a 12-2 season and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten tournament.
They return seven starters from that squad. They must replace Vincenzo Joseph at 165, Mark Hall at 174 and Shakur Rasheed at 197.
Heading the list of starters is All-American Aaron Brooks, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 184-pound champion.
Other returning starters include Brandon Meredith at 125, Roman Bravo-Young at 133, Nick Lee at 141, Jarod Verkleeren at 149, Bo Pipher at 157 and heavyweight Seth Nevills.
"Things are a lot different this season," Sanderson said. "The biggest thing is we get a chance to compete after what we went through.
"We still have the same goals, and we're going to be young. We have a lot of freshmen who will see action. It's going to be a fun season. We're going to have a lot of kids competing for jobs. Because the NCAA is allowing athletes an extra season, I expect every team will field their best team."
Some of the freshmen Penn State fans will be anxious the watch include Carter Starocci at 174, Beau Bartlett at 141, Brody Berge at 157, Rob Howard at 125 and heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet.
Brooks said team is in great shape.
"We've had so much time to prepare," Brooks said. "This team is hungry, and I'm excited to see how things work out. I'm really ready to get started. I'm looking forward to getting back."
Brooks worked out in his front yard with his teammates when they could.
"We killed the grass," Brooks said. "Carter, Greg and I would go at it. I feel we can have five national champions if things work out and we have the right mindset."
Because the season is so short, Sanderson said it's key to bank some competitions early because if wrestlers test positive for COVID-19, they will be sidelined for 17 days.
"The key early is getting in competitions," Sanderson said. "I'm very pleased where we are with conditioning. We're probably in the best shape. I'm excited about the season. We have a lot of depth."
The Nittany Lions open the home schedule Jan. 24 against Michigan State. They play host to Iowa on Feb. 12.
Penn State Wrestling Schedule
Jan. 16 at Rutgers
Jan. 24 Michigan State
Jan, 30 at Northwestern and Indiana
Feb. 7 at Michigan and Wisconsin
Feb. 12 Iowa
Feb. 19 at Ohio State
Feb. 21 Maryland
March 5-6 Big Ten Championship at Penn State
March 18-20 NCAA Championship at St, Louis