After one of the most memorable team races in recent history, Penn State won their third consecutive team title as Bo Nickal pinned longtime nemesis Myles Martin in the 184 pound final. The Nittany Lions will enter next season looking to win their fourth straight NCAA title, and they will certainly be looking to reclaim the Big Ten championship from Ohio State. Unfortunately for Penn State, they cannot bring everyone back from their 2018 title winning team. Unfortunately for everyone else, they are still Penn State.
Cael Sanderson must say goodbye to Zain Retherford in the beautiful blue and white singlet. It'll be nearly impossible replace one of the best ever to wrestle in Rec Hall, but the staff will have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Retherford ended his college career with a school record 95-match win streak, tied for the career lead in pins, and a three-time NCAA and Big Ten champion. He'll still be around the freestyle scene, and will try to make the world team for the second straight year this summer. Yet, the days of watching him maul collegiate wrestlers are over unless there's a Rain Zetherford true freshman in the Penn State directory.
The Nittany Lions will also have to replace Corey Keener and Carson Kuhn. Keener was an NCAA qualifier who was close to picking up some wins in the tournament, but ultimately came up short in his quest to be an All-American. He was a steady hand all year, even if he did not provide a ton of upsets. Kuhn only got to wrestle for Penn State for about a month, and he was thrown right into the fire. His first match was against former champion Nathan Tomasello, his second was against national champion Spencer Lee. Despite that, he was one win from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament after an 11th place finish at the Big Ten Tournament. Kuhn provided some drama and some fun this year, but we must also bid him adieu.
Who REplaces Retherford?
There is no obvious solution to replacing Retherford, who spoiled Penn State fans over the last three years. The Nittany Lions have a couple of obvious options to replace him, so wrestle-offs next season should be quite interesting.
Jarod Verkleeren - (Rs. Fr.)
Verkleeren's commitment in 2017 was a surprise for Sanderson, and he had a successful redshirt season competing at open tournaments. Verkleeren ended his redshirt season 9-2, with a first place finish at the Bearcat Open. He was one of the five wrestlers who competed unattached at the Southern Scuffle for Penn State, where he finished seventh and wrestled close matches with bloodround finisher Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa) and NCAA qualifier Jared Prince (Navy).
Verkleeren appears to be the favorite to take the 149 pound spot given the uncertainty around fellow freshman Brady Berge. Berge was a more heralded recruit, but Verkleeren has proven himself to be a good wrestler this season. Another year of work in the room should project Verkleeren as an easy NCAA qualifier and maybe even a place on the podium.
Brady Berge - (Rs. Fr.)
Brady Berge was the sixth ranked pound-for-pound recruit in 2017 when he committed to Penn State. Berge took a redshirt this season but did not compete much in the open circuit. He also wrestled up a weight at 157 pounds, which is not uncommon for redshirts. Why cut weight when the focus in a redshirt season is often just getting exposure to D1 competition? Those who were hoping to see Berge compete more would have been disappointed by him entering only one tournament. He was scheduled for other tournaments, such as the prestigious Midlands, but withdrew prior to competition.
The tournament Berge entered, the Princeton Open, saw him finish 4-1 with his lone loss to NCAA qualifier Mike D'Angelo (Princeton). Berge was a three-time Minnesota state champion, where he wrestled at 160 pounds as a senior. When he committed to Penn State, Berge insisted that he was going to wrestle at 149 pounds for at least a year or two. But plans can change and if Berge has grown, it may make the weight cut too difficult. However, since he has stated that the plan was for him to be at 149 pounds for a season or two, he still has a chance to wrestle in this spot for Penn State. He could be a big point scorer as a redshirt freshman at one of the most open weight classes in the NCAA in 2018-19.
Future at 125 Pounds
Gavin Teasdale (Fr.)
The former Iowa commit, now Penn State signee, is the favorite to land the spot at 125 pounds for next season. Teasdale has had an incredible career in PIAA and on the freestyle scene. He has made multiple cadet world teams, and is a very active wrestler. Teasdale is able to just get on opponents' legs seemingly at will. Even if his finishing can be a bit inconsistent, he is able to get there, which is half the battle. Trust the staff and Teasdale to make him the most complete wrestler he can be.
Despite a loss to Pat Glory (Princeton commit) at Flo Wrestling's Who's Number One, Teasdale was able to get to Glory's legs consistently, but Glory was able to prevent the takedowns and ended up picking up the win through some savvy scrambling. However, Teasdale's late takedown to beat Glory in a rematch at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic showed the kind of promise that Teasdale has. He easily shot in, and was able to finish in the dying seconds of the match.
Brody Teske (Fr.)
The prevailing thought is that Teske, a four-time Iowa state champion, will redshirt as a true freshman. However, Teske is a gamer and he always manages to stay quite steady. At the Council Bluffs Wrestling Classic last season, he had one of the best matches of the high school season against Nebraska commit Alex Thomsen. Teske showed why he's got a promising career moving into the collegiate ranks. Trailing 7-3 going into the third period, Teske ended up overcoming the deficit to pick up an 11-9 win. That's the kind of personality Teske has, he finds a way and he appears to fit the mold of a Penn State wrestler quite well.
Future at 133 Pounds
Roman Bravo-Young (Fr.)
To replace Keener, the most likely answer is 2018 signee Roman Bravo-Young. Bravo-Young committed back in 2016, and while there was some drama in the months leading up to his signing day, he held his commitment. Bravo-Young remains one of the most dynamic and fun to watch high school prospects in the country.
He has a diverse array of attacks that will make him a podium contender as a true freshman. Even in a weight class as loaded as 133 pounds projects to be, with Seth Gross, Stevan Micic, Luke Pletcher, Tariq Wilson and the rumored move up from Nick Suriano, Bravo-Young has the tools to place high. He also has a tremendous belief in himself. He entered the U.S. Open senior freestyle division, and ended up scoring a takedown on former world team member Tony Ramos. Despite going 0-2 in that Open, he still tested himself against the best the nation has to offer. That speaks to just how strong his personal belief is.
Potential Redshirts for Mark Hall Or Nick Lee?
Lee and Hall still have redshirts available going into the 2018-19 season. It is not expected that Hall would take a redshirt in 2018-19, simply because there is not a ready-made replacement for him at 174 pounds. While it is not confirmed, it would not be surprising for Mark Hall to take a redshirt during the 2019-20 season because of the Olympics. Hall has freestyle aspirations, and the redshirt being available for that season makes a ton of sense for him to fulfill his dream of being an Olympic champion.
Nick Lee's redshirt has a less obvious answer to it. It does not appear like Lee will take a redshirt in 2018-19, as there is no one ready for his spot with the graduation of Jered Cortez. While Bravo-Young looks like he will be at 141 at some point in his collegiate career, it probably won't be next season, as he will likely be needed at 133 pounds. The probable best time to use the redshirt for Nick Lee will be in 2019-20, which would allow him to compete for a spot in the Olympics as well. Here is the scenario:
|125 pounds||Gavin Teasdale (Fr.)||Brody Teske (Fr.)||Adam Busiello (Fr.)/Brody Teske (So.)|
|133 pounds||Roman Bravo-Young (Fr.)||Gavin Teasdale (So.)||Adam Busiello (Fr.)/Brody Teske (So.)|
|141 pounds||Nick Lee (So.)||Roman Bravo-Young (So.)||Roman Bravo-Young (Jr.) or Recruit?|
|149 pounds||Jarod Verkleeren/Brady Berge (Fr.)||Jarod Verkleeren (So.)||Nick Lee (Jr.)|
- Italics - Redshirt is still available
- Bold - Redshirt has been used
This is a very clean way for Penn State to transition a bunch of redshirts onto Nick Lee and their stud recruits. Lee would take his redshirt in 2019-20 after Bravo-Young moves to the starting spot at 141. Lee would use that redshirt to work his way up to the 149 pound weight class that he seems slated for at some point in his career. Teske would take his redshirt in 2018-19, Busiello (2019 recruit) would take his redshirt in 2019-20, and Teasdale would take his redshirt in 2020-21. The only unknown is when Bravo-Young takes his in this scenario, but we still have another two years to figure out what recruit is able to take that spot.
Now, this is where Penn State's embarrassment of riches comes to play, and this is obviously subject to change. If Verkleeren or Berge develop into All-American caliber wrestlers at 149 and stay at that weight, then it will be quite difficult to get them to sit on the bench to let Lee wrestle in their place.
Penn State continues to have a huge number of excellent options, and their 2018-19 lineup may be one of the deepest lineups in school history.