When Penn State released their updated roster for the 2018-19 season, two-time national champion Bo Nickal was revealed to be moving up to 197 pounds for the season. Nickal has had a sensational career at Penn State so far, and has potential to be a four-time finalist and three-time champion. Bo was ranked No. 1 by FloWrestling and Intermat to start the season, and will enter the 197-pound field as an overwhelming favorite.
Bo Nickal's 2017-18 Season
Nickal is coming off of another fantastic season that saw him win his second Big Ten title, and clinch the team title for Penn State after he pinned Ohio State's Myles Martin in the NCAA final. Nickal's performance also netted him the Outstanding Wrestler of Tournament award. He was also a finalist for the Hodge Trophy that was ultimately won by teammate Zain Retherford.
And while those are some outstanding accolades, they don't quite tell the whole story of how dominant Nickal was last season. He finished the season 31-0 with 23 of his wins coming by bonus. He's also one of the most creative wrestlers in recent memory, and is somehow dangerous in every position, even when he's on his back. Bo knows wrestling, I guess, and he's pretty good at it. This move up for Nickal is likely going to help his transition into international competition after his Penn State career is over. Nickal will likely be competing at 86 kg (189.6 lbs.), and this move up will allow him to grow into that weight a little bit more.
However, make no mistake, this move is not just only going to benefit Bo Nickal going forward, it's going to be great for Penn State as well. The 197-pound weight class was very inconsistent last year with a lot of really good wrestlers, but has really lacked an elite type wrestler since J'den Cox graduated.
What Happened at 197 pounds in 2018?
- Third - Kyle Conel (Kent State)
- Fourth - Kollin Moore (Ohio State)
- Fifth - Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa)
- Sixth - Ben Darmstadt (Cornell) will not wrestle in 2018-19 due to a back injury
- Eighth - Willie Miklus (Missouri, will wrestle in 2018-19 for Iowa State)
For Penn State, Shakur Rasheed ended up earning the starter role after a tough battle with Anthony Cassar all season. Rasheed finished second at the Big Ten Tournament and seventh in the NCAA Tournament. Rasheed was seen as Penn State's potential dark horse to blow open the title race due to his lethal cross-face cradle, but that never really came to fruition for the now 184-pound starter. Despite winning 12 matches by fall in the regular season, he did not secure a pin in any of his postseason matches. Cassar, on the other hand, was seen as a steady hand, but not a big bonus point scorer, and this was ultimately what ended up allowing Rasheed to become the starter. Cassar had some mixed results, but did secure the biggest win between himself and Rasheed. Cassar defeated No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) in the dual last season, but ended up being left out in March. Cassar is moving up 285 pounds to compete with Nick Nevills for that starting spot.
The 197-pound class last season was a mixed bag with a lot of talented wrestlers, but not really many standout performers. Moore entered the season as the favorite after winning the Big Ten title and a third place finish at the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17. Moore's fourth place finish at NCAAs came as a bit of a surprise after he got pinned in one of the upsets of the tournament by Kyle Conel in the quarterfinals. Moore is a strong rider and very fluid on his feet for a 197 pounder. His pace and strength have made him a very tough wrestler to deal with and that's why he's a two-time All-American entering his junior season. He will likely be Nickal's toughest challenger that still remains at this weight.
Conel is a super talented wrestler and very strong, but his consistency from match to match is lacking. He pinned the number one overall seed, but he also lost to non-NCAA qualifiers. Conel defeated Rasheed early in the season last year, as well. Jacob Holschlag is another very solid wrestler, but he has had 22 losses in the last two seasons. Holschlag was pinned by Rasheed at the Scuffle. Holschlag is not going to light up the scoreboard either, as he's posted just a 27.5% bonus rate in his three collegiate seasons so far. However, he did show out at the NCAA Tournament, where he defeated Willie Miklus, Ben Darmstadt, and Chris Weiler (Lehigh). He should be a contender for the back half of the podium once again.
The other returning All-American who will be wrestling this season is Miklus. Miklus had a solid season last year, but his best result came when he pinned second place finisher Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) in a dual last season. He has grad transferred to Iowa State to finish his college career. Darmstadt has eligibility to wrestle this year, but will be out for the season with a back injury.
The most promising wrestler to enter this weight for 2018-19 is going to be Jacob Warner (Iowa). The Hawkeye had a promising redshirt campaign where he went 15-4 and defeated All-American Miklus by major decision. Warner did have a difficult Midlands Tournament, where he finished 3-3, but apart from that he was very good for most of the season. Expect him to come in and challenge for the podium right away. There are other talented wrestlers who will challenge for the podium next season, including Weiler (Lehigh), Tom Sleigh (Virginia Tech), Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State), and Patrick Brucki (Princeton).
Where Does Bo Finish?
Nickal enters the season as the No. 1 wrestler and he will be the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament. Expect his stiffest competition to come against Moore, who will be an intriguing matchup for Bo, but ultimately I expect Nickal will be able to defeat him. Moore has had trouble in the past with wrestlers who are very positionally disciplined on their feet like Anthony Cassar. Even though I wouldn't necessarily consider Nickal to be the most disciplined on his feet, his ingenuity and confidence leads to some of the most creative offense in Division I. There's a real chance that Nickal storms through the season once again, and becomes the third Penn State wrestler with three career national titles after this season. Warner is going to be interesting, but probably not quite ready to challenge Nickal.
Last season, Nickal scored 23 team points at the NCAA Tournament, and a similar return this season is a fair expectation. Nickal will be able to run the score up on a lot of guys at this weight, and he could even arguably build on this total. It will be interesting to see how Bo's upper body offense translates against bigger opponents. However, Nickal has exceptional technique and really is comfortable from anywhere. I expect he will end up being just fine, and dominate like we know he can.