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After 2-week delay, Penn State wrestling team 'should be good to go' for Saturday's opener

PARTH UPADHYAYA
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Cael Sanderson

After its first two meets of the season were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, the No. 4 Penn State wrestling team is confident its tri-meet against Northwestern and Indiana in Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday will take place.

"We should be good to go now — we had kind of a wave (of COVID-19)," head coach Cael Sanderson told reporters Wednesday morning on a Zoom call. "It just takes so long to get these guys back. There's a backlog on getting some of the tests taken and then these things read by the right doctors. That's the big challenge, probably in all athletic departments right now."

Sanderson added that the Nittany Lions will take antigen tests before they travel to the airport on Friday. Obviously, wrestlers who fail the test won't travel, but the rest of the team will. The NCAA allows teams to travel up to 20 wrestlers for tri-meets.

In a season that's already been shortened to nine regular-season meets instead of the usual 14, missing those two meets could be detrimental to Penn State's ability to find a rhythm before postseason competition begins on March 6 with the Big Ten Championships.

"Our guys have been ready to wrestle and they're excited to wrestle," Sanderson said. "So, we're not gonna overthink it or anything like that. We know we'll be ready to go in the postseason."

The Nittany Lions will try to reschedule their two canceled meets — originally against Rutgers and Michigan State.

This process, Sanderson mentioned, is "gonna come down to the schools" that couldn't compete and not the Big Ten.

"It's not easy, as you can imagine, with everything already so cramped," Sanderson said. "But we're hoping to reschedule these matches ... just so we have enough matches going into the conference tournament."

Even now, Penn State still has uncertainties with its schedule ahead. Because of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, Michigan — which was scheduled to host Wisconsin and Penn State in a tri-meet on Feb. 7 — put all of its athletic programs on pause for 14 days starting last Saturday.

To avoid losing that meet altogether, Sanderson said the Nittany Lions are trying to schedule just Wisconsin for a dual-meet at a different location.

"We're planning on competing next week," the 12th-year head coach added, "at least against Wisconsin."

Though Penn State hasn't had a chance to measure itself versus other teams during this two-week delay of the season-opener, Sanderson has done everything he can to ensure his squad is ready to go when it finally does take on an opponent.

Last Sunday, after it was determined that Michigan State wouldn't travel to University Park, the Nittany Lions rolled a mat out in Rec Hall and had an intrasquad wrestle-off with real officiating.

Despite a late start to their campaign, Sanderson and Co. are confident that they'll be in shape to compete for a Big Ten crown — whether that's evident when Penn State wrestles on Saturday or further down the road is a different story.

"Real competition is obviously the real test," Sanderson said, "so we can see where we're at, what we need to work on."