One of the few problems that Penn State wrestling has had over the past number of seasons has been finding a top-quality 125-pounder.
Problem solved. At least for this season.
Rumors were swirling a couple months ago in central Pennsylvania that Central Michigan’s Drew Hildebrandt had transferred to Penn State. Those rumors were confirmed last week when Hildebrandt was added to the official wrestling roster.
Hildebrandt, a three-time NCAA qualifier who placed fourth at nationals last year, is getting ready to compete at 125 as soon as possible. Head coach Cael Sanderson said at a Tuesday press conference that may even happen this weekend.
“Drew has been in the area for about a month, and he’s really a great kid,” said Sanderson. “Obviously a tough competitor. We’re excited to add him to the roster, and hopefully we can get him going soon.”
“I think it’s exciting,” said PSU heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet. “He’s a really good wrestler. On top of that, he’s a great person. I’m happy to have him on the team. Obviously he adds a lot to the team, so I’m excited about that.”
Hildebrandt has a career record of 83-33 at Central Michigan.
His path to a run at a national championship also got a little easier last week as Iowa’s Spencer Lee announced he would be unavailable all season due to needing surgery on a torn ACL. Lee is a three-time national champion at 125.
Status of COVID-19
Last year around this time, Penn State wrestling was just getting ready to start up due to a delayed start to the season. The program was put on pause a few days before what was supposed to be the start of the season.
Thankfully the ongoing COVID-19 issues that are wreaking havoc everywhere in the sports world has not hit the Nittany Lions yet. That was something that Sanderson was worried about after many wrestlers returned to campus after being home for the holidays.
Kerkvliet isn’t taking being healthy for granted, especially after not being available until the last dual meets of the regular season last year.
“I feel healthy and 100 percent better, mindset and body,” said Kerkvliet. “I feel more grateful to be out there, and not necessarily just focusing on the wins and losses. I don’t think that matters. I think the opportunity to go out and compete is special enough.”
The battle at 197
If there is ever a good problem to have, it’s the one that Penn State has at 197 with a pair of All-Americans in Max Dean and Michael Beard.
However the problem now is Beard got hurt last weekend at the Southern Scuffle, which eliminates that depth. Beard took second in the tournament in Chattanooga as he had to medical default in the finals to Missouri’s No. 4 Rocky Elam.
It remains to be seen how long Beard will be out.
“It’s tough because only one can start, but it’s been a blessing for both of them,” said Sanderson. “I think Beard is getting better and better. He wrestled tough. Seeing the progress he’s made since last year has to be a big confidence boost for him.”
Another two-meet weekend
The season will pick back up this weekend after taking a break for the holidays. The Nittany Lions are at Maryland on Friday at 7 p.m., and home with Indiana on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
In total, the Terrapins’ and Hoosiers’ rosters have a combined five wrestlers ranked by InterMat. It’s just the kind of weekend that a wrestling coach would like to get back in the swing of things after a break of more than two weeks.
“Both teams are tough and well-coached,” said Sanderson. “We’re expecting good matches. We want to do what we do, and dictate the pace of the match. Obviously coming back off break and getting the second half of the season going, we want to compete with a little bit of fire and just build off what we’ve been doing.”
Both dual meets can be seen on Big Ten Network Plus.