No. 1 Penn State set for wrestling showdown on Friday with undefeated No. 3 Michigan team

KYLE J. ANDREWS
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State head wrestling coach Cael Sanderson

Penn State (11-0) and Michigan (5-0) are set to have a battle of the undefeated wrestling programs on Friday.

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson said Friday will be a test for the Nittany Lions, but he doesn't view it much differently than any other week.

"Everyone knows Michigan's one of the very best teams in the country," he said. "That's no secret, but I feel like every weekend's a test. The test is just so we make progress as we move along and the individuals are making progress. You have different challenges. I think we've seen this year, every week, you can just pose different challenges, just different kids are having to step up."

As the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the country and bitter Big Ten rivals, Penn State and Michigan have been studying each other's habits throughout the year. Nineteen of 20 wrestlers that will compete against each other on Friday are ranked. Sanderson expects that his team will be up for the challenge and are prepared for the intricacies that the meet proposes.

Still, Michigan will be a tough task for the Nittany Lions. The Wolverines have two Olympians on their roster — 184-pound bronze medalist Myles Amine ( United States) and Stevan Micic ( Serbia).

"You're preparing for the big matches year-round," Sanderson said on Tuesday. "We've got a great dual coming up in three days. We're really going to shift gears now. I think for us, it's just about trying to get our guys to keep getting better. Then, I'm sure the individuals in our lineup know the top guys in their weight class and they're preparing for them year-round. At this point, we'll do a few things here and there, but it's just a matter of getting out there and competing and really seeing where we're at so we know what kind of adjustments we can make as we head into the postseason."

Relationship with Michigan assistant Kevin Jackson: Michigan assistant coach Kevin Jackson has a long history with Sanderson, both as a coach and as a friend. Anderson was with USA Wrestling's freestyle program for 15 years in a number of different coaching roles, and in 2004, he helped Sanderson win a gold medal at the Olympics in Athens.

Sanderson understands that many coaches have a level of familiarity with one another at the Division I level, whether it's through competition, coaching clinics or having wrestled together or against one another. While they now are on rival coaching staffs, his relationship with Jackson is unchanged.

"I think it's probably similar in all sports," Sanderson said. "It's kind of a small network and you compete against people that you care a lot about. Coach Jackson was one of my Olympic coaches and I love the guy. We compete against these guys in freestyle and that doesn't change your relationship with him. But I think that's just probably typical of any sport, right? You see that in football and basketball where coaches are working together and then they're coaching against each other. I think it's pretty neat. I thought that was a great hire on Michigan's part and really happy for coach Coach Jackson."

Jackson is a storied wrestler in his own right, winning the 82-kilogram/181-pound gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He was 4-time NCAA All-American at 158 and 167 pounds at both LSU (1983-85) and Iowa State (1986-87). His extensive knowledge as a wrestler and a coach has pushed both Sanderson and Penn State 184-pound wrestler Aaron Brooks further in their development.

Brooks trained with Jackson at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs prior to joining Penn State's wrestling program. The experience gave him an opportunity to sculpt his body and sharpen his skills. The Hagerstown, Md. native was taken out of his comfort zone and thrown into the fire against the best of the best. It's a memory that stays with him as he prepares to take on the team of his mentor.

"I'm always super grateful for Coach KJ (Jackson)," Brooks said. "That year at the OTC was really big for me, a really good year for me — getting away from home before college. It was all there cross country from where I'm from, and just getting to train with the Olympic team and the World Team guys all the time and just have a KJ as a mentor. I think the main thing is something that really helped me a lot in my career until this day. So, it's all love, you know, it'd be the same when I see him."

Training with Olympians: Jackson isn't the only former Olympian that Brooks has worked with. The junior helped 2020 Olympic 184-pound gold medalist David Taylor train in Tokyo. While COVID-19 restrictions didn't allow him to meet others, including Michigan's Amine, Brooks took the most of his opportunity to train with the former Penn State star and build onto his own training regimen. He also believes that it will aid him in the preparation for his battle with Amine.

"He's an Olympic bronze medalist," Brooks said of Amine. "This summer, I was blessed enough to be in Tokyo as training partner and see that kind of level of wrestling and wrestle with the Olympic champion in that weight class. So, I think that's a huge advantage, being able to wrestle with David this summer. In Tokyo, they were the same bracket and they wrestled in the second round. So, that definitely gives a little bit of edge."

No. 1 Penn State (11-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at No. 3 Michigan (5-0, 1-0)

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Radio: WRSC (93.3 FM) or WQWK (103.7 FM)

Online: Radio, Lionvision at GoPSUsports.com; TV, Big Ten Network

Twitter: @byncobler, @pennstatewrest

Nittany Lions vs. Wolverines

125: No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt (3-0) vs. No. 1 Nick Suriano (3-0)

133: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (9-0) vs. No. 8 Dylan Ragusin (12-3)

141: No. 1 Nick Lee (9-0) vs. No. 4 Stevan Micic (2-1)

149: No. 19 Beau Bartlett (8-3) vs. Cole Mattin (10-5)

157: Tony Negron (1-5) OR Terrell Barraclough (6-4) vs. No. 15 Will Lewan (8-2)

165: No. 16 Brady Berge (1-0) OR Creighton Edsell (7-3) vs. No. 10 Cameron Amine (7-2)

174: No. 1 Carter Starocci (11-0) vs. No. 6 Logan Massa (2-0)

184: No. 1 Aaron Brooks (9-0) vs. No. 2 Myles Amine (7-0)

197: No. 2 Max Dean (11-0) vs. No. 8 Patrick Brucki (12-2)

285: No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet (9-0) vs. No. 2 Mason Parris (7-0)

No. 1 Penn State (11-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at No. 21 Michigan State (7-1, 2-1)

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jenison Field House, East Lansing, Mich.

Radio: WRSC (93.3 FM) or WQWK (103.7 FM)

Online: Radio, Lionvision at GoPSUsports.com; Big Ten+ (paid subscription)

Twitter: @byncobler, @pennstatewrest

Note: Michigan State hosts Rutgers, Friday night

Nittany Lions vs. Spartans

125: No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt (3-0) vs. Tristan Lujan (8-6)

133: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (9-0) vs. No. 12 Rayvon Foley (19-2)

141: No. 1 Nick Lee (9-0) vs. Jordan Hamdan (8-8) OR Matt Santos (7-7)

149: No. 19 Beau Bartlett (8-3) vs. Peyton Omania (7-5) OR Eddie Homrock (8-5)

157: Tony Negron (1-5) OR Terrell Barraclough (6-4) vs. No. 19 Chase Saldate (20-3)

165: No. 16 Brady Berge (1-0) OR Creighton Edsell (7-3) vs. Caleb Fish (17-6) OR Miles Hoey (5-6)

174: No. 1 Carter Starocci (11-0) vs. Nathan Jimenez (7-10) OR Marty Larkin (7-8)

184: No. 1 Aaron Brooks (9-0) vs. No. 27 Layne Malczewski (17-6)

197: No. 2 Max Dean (11-0) vs. No. 15 Cameron Caffey (19-4)

285: No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet (9-0) vs. Brad Wilton (8-10)