Penn State enters the 2016-17 season with the most talented lineup in the country but also an inexperienced one. We unfortunately have to say goodbye to some great Penn State wrestlers, so long to National Champion Nico Megaludis (125, 3x All-American), All-Americans Jordan Conaway (133, 2x) and Morgan McIntosh (197, 3x). They will be missed, but sometimes great things must come to an end for other great things to happen. This article is going to feature the anticipated newcomers to the lineup, and what we can expect from them this season.
125 pounds - nick suriano
Nick Suriano enters the season as Penn State's lone true freshman in the lineup. Suriano is coming off one of the most successful high school careers in New Jersey history. Over four years, Suriano compiled a sterling 159-0 record and four state championships at Bergen Catholic, joining Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers as the only two wrestlers to go undefeated and win four titles in their career in the state. To make it even more insane, Suriano was taken down one time over those four years in New Jersey competition. But wait, there's more(!), that takedown was during Suriano's freshman season, he gave up back points shortly after that takedown, and he never surrendered another offensive point again. Penn State isn't just getting an elite high school prospect in Suriano, they are getting one of the most dominant wrestlers in New Jersey history.
Suriano is going to bring with him heavy hands, incredible balance and athleticism for a 125er. He's got incredible coordination and strength. It's a huge factor in why Suriano doesn't get taken down, he is able to use his quickness and strength to fend off shots. Suriano is also a hammer on top, and can ride out even the best when in that position. If Suriano comes with a weakness, it's going to be in his shot. However, Suriano will be a tough out anywhere and he'll get some of the best coaching around. You also cannot discredit the value of having Megaludis in the training room with him. In a vacuum, Suriano can beat just about anyone, and has the potential to be a national title contender by the end of the season.
At 125 pounds though, Suriano is entering a difficult field that features a lot of guys with NCAA experience. Thomas Gilman (Iowa), Joey Dance (Va Tech), Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa), and Connor Schram (Stanford) all will pose difficult challenges, and they are all upperclassmen. Don't forget about high potential freshman in the field like Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State), either. On November 13, Suriano will take on Schram when Penn State faces Stanford in a dual meet. We will get a good idea of where Suriano is early in the season. Suriano is going to be challenged often at this weight class and it is going to be exciting to watch him develop throughout his time at Penn State.
133 pounds - jered cortez
Jered Cortez is a sophomore that has come to Penn State after transferring from Illinois. Cortez redshirted the 2014-15 season at Illinois and was forced to sit out the 2015-16 season for transferring to another B1G school. Last season, while competing unattached, he defeated 2-time All American Jordan Conaway 5-4 at the Nittany Lion Open. Cortez is also a 4-time Illinois state champion.
133 pounds is going to be a difficult weight to navigate and will bring Cortez a lot of challenges this coming season. Former National Champion (125) Nathan Tomasello (Ohio St.) has moved up to this class and is an immediate contender. Zane Richards (Illinois) and Cory Clark (Iowa) are also national title contenders. There are also quite a few new faces at 133 that will make this class even tougher, including Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) and Stevan Micic (Michigan).
There are legitimately six or seven top-10 wrestlers at this class in the B1G conference when also considering Eric Montoya (Nebraska) and Scott Delvecchio (Rutgers). Cortez isn't going to have an easy night when he steps on the mat with this type of depth in conference. However, Cortez is a very gifted wrestler and has the potential to make noise at this weight, and will be an immediate contender to place come March.
165 pounds - vincenzo joseph
Vincenzo Joseph enters the season as the clear front runner to slot in at 165. Last year this was Geno Morelli and Shakur Rasheed's spot, however, they both appear to be moving up to 174 in the preseason. Joseph was the #5 ranked recruit in the 2015 class by FloWrestling when he came out of high school. Joseph spent 2015-16 as a redshirt and competed unattached in open tournaments, compiling an 11-0 record; however, he had relatively light competition. Still, there's little doubt that Joseph can compete with the best. Here is Joseph competing at the 2015 UWW Junior World Team Trials against Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers):
165 pounds projects to be another deep and difficult weight class. Many talented wrestlers stand in Joseph's way of getting on the podium. Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) is a two-time NCAA Champion at 157 and has moved up, Issac Jordan (Wisconsin), and Logan Massa (Michigan) are both going to be tough matchups in conference.
It goes without mentioning that Daniel Lewis (Missouri), Chandler Rogers (OK State), Anthony Valencia (Arizona St.), and Alex Marinelli (Iowa) will all be difficult. Joseph will be an All-American contender the moment he makes his NCAA debut. His ability to shoot and stay on top will make him a tough out in March.
197 pounds - kellan stout or anthony cassar
This is probably the weight I'm most curious about to see what Cael ends up doing. A lot depends on the fitness and health of Anthony Cassar. At this point, there has been no timetable given on Cassar's return, and this means Kellan Stout will be the one to take the spot at least to start the season.
Stout is a former Pennsylvania state champion from Mt. Lebanon High School, where he compiled a 138-18 record over 4 years. Last season, Stout redshirted and competed in open tournaments at 184. In those open tournaments, Stout went 11-3. When Stout was brought into Penn State, he was groomed to wrestle at 197 pounds.
Cassar has the greater pedigree of the two. In 2015, Cassar went undefeated in New Jersey and won the state title, and he also was the 96-kg Junior National Freestyle Champion. As a result of winning the Junior National Freestyle title, he was a member of the Junior World Team in 2015. While competing in the quarterfinals at Junior Worlds in 2015, Cassar suffered a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for nearly a year. This past summer, Cassar suffered another shoulder injury that required surgery. There has been no timetable given for his return.
The 197 pound weight class this year is the J'Den Cox (Missouri) show. It's difficult to imagine a single wrestler beating the two-time National Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist. Brent Pfarr (Minnesota), Kollin Moore (Ohio St.) and Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska) will provide the toughest challengers in conference for whomever is suiting up in the 197 pound class.
It's nearly impossible to project how Stout or Cassar would do at this weight at this time since they've got so little experience in NCAA competition. However, if Cassar is healthy, I think he could do some damage come March, it all depends on his surgically repaired shoulder
Thank you all for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter (@greenmanRD) and next time you see me, I'll be writing an article on our returners.