The sport and its coaches need to realize the importance of marquee events and seize the opportunities to market this sport. Troy Sunderland, John Hughes and the rest of the Penn State staff and administration deserve credit for creating the concept and following through. Hopefully, the other state wrestling schools will realize the potential of this tournament and jump on board rather than let it whither on the vine. It is also a great way to try to get some Eastern rivals back on the schedule while accommodating the Big Ten schedule and the desire to get other competition from around the country.
This weekend's earlier-than-usual start for the Penn State wrestling team will give fans a chance to jump right into a season which begins with very high expectations. Last weekend's wrestle-offs were a show of athleticism, depth and a nice mix of styles as well as old and new faces.
• Eric Bradley and James Woodall give Penn State two outstanding captains — wrestlers who lead by example on and off the mat. Both have their sights set on a national title this season and have been through an awful lot of difficult situations throughout their careers. Here's hoping their perseverance and determination are justly rewarded.
Bradley recently sustained an ankle sprain and could see action in the PA Duals. He will weigh in and the guess here is that if PSU is in the final against Lehigh and the meet is in doubt when they get to 184 pounds, Bradley will wrestle. Otherwise, expect him to be ready to go for the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin on Nov. 20. Chad Unger will be in the lineup if and when Bradley sits out.
• The Nittany Lions will weigh in both Tim Haas and Brad Pataky at 125 pounds. The original plans to redshirt Pataky have been scrapped and the competition between these two should be fierce throughout the season. Both will be better for it. And don't forget, waiting in the wings is transfer Mark McKnight from Buffalo who figures to become a force in the next two years.
• Redshirt freshman Jake Strayer took the starting job at 133 pounds with a couple of impressive wins over incumbent Bryan Heller. Strayer is a relentless attacker and the guess here is that he will quickly establish himself as a legitimate All-America contender at the least this season.
• James Woodall does not look like he's 100 percent — when he runs, there is an odd, almost hobbling motion. However, as he displayed Sunday in his wrestle-off with Dan Vallimont, he is close enough to healthy to be effective in his scrambling, which has always been a strong suit. Hopefully, there are no further setbacks and he can become even more effective as the season goes on.
• Nathan Galloway is going to be one of the keys for Penn State this season. If he can capitalize on his skills and become an All-American, the Nittany Lions will have a legitimate shot at finishing in the top three nationally. Galloway looked sharp in wrestle-offs and if he can stay focused and wrestle hard, regardless of score or situation, he could realize his potential this season.
• David Erwin is simply amazing with his hips — his balance and ability to come out on top in scrambles is uncanny. He will need to improve on his positioning and aggressiveness from the neutral position, but he should be solid as a freshman this season.
• James Yonushonis looked very good in wrestle-offs, controlling the tie-ups and scoring well against Neil Bretz, who dominated the rest of the competition. Yonushonis and Phil Bomberger at 165 would be among my strong early candidates for most-improved wrestlers from last season. Yonushonis was not blessed with the God-given ability of some of the top-caliber wrestlers but his experience and work ethic will make him a wrestler to watch this season. He looks like he may be on the verge of a breakthrough year.
• Phil Davis will undoubtedly remain a crowd favorite with his new dreadlocks look this season and his exciting, un-197-pound-like style of wrestling. Davis could be one of the strongest, if not THE strongest challenger to two-time defending champion Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State this season.
• Joel Edwards looks big and solid. And his body lock on Aaron Anspach to get the pin in wrestle-offs indicates that he can challenge any of the big men in the nation. The key for Edwards will be to not have any letdowns in his positioning and to use his quickness and riding ability to full advantage.
• In addition to the 12 starters listed above, PSU is expected to weigh in Bryan Heller (133), Jason Lapham (149), Mark Friend (157) and Neil Bretz (174) for Sunday's duals.
• The first-round match-up with the University of Pitt-Johnstown is intriguing to say the least. Pat Pecora is one of the best wrestling coaches in the country — period. The Division II powerhouse will be excited to prove itself against the big 'Cats and UPJ is loaded with homegrown talent. Defending Division II national champ Thad Benton will be a great test for DeWitt Driscoll at 141. Ryan Mazzocco (125) and Mike Corcetti (184) are also ranked No. 1 in Division II at the start of the season. Eli Garshnick was also an All-American at 174 last year and heavyweight Zach Majocha is another wrestler to watch on the Mountain Cats. Penn State certainly can't afford to take the opening meet for granted, but the Nittany Lions should prevail with a solid effort.
• With a win, Penn State would like face Clarion in the second round (provided the Golden Eagles win over York). Clarion is going through a bit of a rebuilding process and the matchup at 157 pounds between Nate Galloway and the Golden Eagles' Chris Horning figures to be the highlight of this meet. If Penn State wrestles to its potential, the Nittany Lions should roll here.
• Penn State and Lehigh are expected to meet in the final and if that occurs, what a great match it should be on the opening day of the season. The Nittany Lions and Mountain Hawks (or Engineers as they'll always be remembered by me) are both on track to be among the elite nationally for years to come. It is a great rivalry and the intensity figures to be March-like on this mid-November afternoon.
Bradley's ability to go could be a big factor. The match figures to be nip-and-tuck with at least five bouts falling into the toss-up category. Regardless of the outcome, both teams figure to be better for the experience. Facing top-level competition and an electric atmosphere early in the season should help both teams continue to build for a great season.
• Sunday's action begins at 10 a.m. with meets at noon and 2p.m. as well. A large crowd is expected to take in the action at the renovated Rec Hall and the matches will be broadcast on 970AM, WBLF and streamed live at GoPSUsports.com.
Let the season begin, it should be a lot of fun!
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