To this point, the season has been about par for the course for Penn State wrestling.
There haven’t been any real surprises, other than the returning national champion at 197 in Max Dean slipping in back-to-back matches, but it seems that he’s put that way behind him in the rearview mirror.
Penn State has been about as dominant as any fan could ask, but the non-conference schedule doesn’t offer the same competition as the Big Ten. Half of the Top 10 rankings by InterMat are Big Ten teams, and Penn State will see No. 4 Michigan later this week and No. 2 Iowa next week. Both dual meets will be held in the Bryce Jordan Center to help with the demand for fan interest.
Penn State’s best win so far is over Iowa State, a 22-12 victory on Day 2 of the Collegiate Wrestling Duals. The Cyclones were ranked fifth at the time and are now third in the nation. That 22-12 win over Iowa State also featured a forfeit victory for Greg Kerkvliet at heavyweight. After that, the best win came against Lehigh.
After a two-week holiday break, Wisconsin challenged Penn State as it got back into the swing of things to open Big Ten competition. The Badgers are ranked 17th and gave Penn State a few good bouts in key spots where it needed it. But Penn State was never in danger of losing the dual meet. That almost certainly won’t be the case against Iowa, and probably not Michigan, either.
Next Friday against the Hawkeyes is always the most anticipated match of the season, but Penn State-Michigan is always fun, too. There was high anticipation for that match last year in Ann Arbor, and the Lions ended up crushing the Wolverines 29-6. If a blowout happens again Friday, it might be a good indicator that Penn State could be just as good again this year.
There’s something to be said for a rest period in any sport, especially wrestling. Having just one dual meet in a month should give Penn State all the quality recovery it needs. Coach Cael Sanderson probably welcomes that period off before two of the season’s biggest dual meets.
It will be interesting to see what the team looks like going into the second half of the season. Many starters, especially in the upper weights, should have their names set in the lineup with a pen rather than a pencil. It will also be interesting to see if Sanderson sends out Levi Haines at 157 after a big major decision over Wisconsin’s Garrett Model or if we’ll see Terrell Barraclough again. Barraclough was ranked as high as 28th earlier this season.
The four returning national champions in Dean, Roman Bravo-Young, Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks, figure to be high up on the podium again in March, if not at the top. A few other young studs emerging, like Kerkvliet, Beau Bartlett, Shayne Van Ness and possibly Haines, only make Penn State more of a threat.
Michigan and Iowa will be stepping into one of the best scenes that college wrestling has to offer in the next couple of weeks. We’ll soon find out if the 2022-23 version of Nittany Lion wrestling is just as dominating as last year’s national champions.