Penn State back on mat

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson answers questions at a 2016 news conference in New York.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State wrestling will have to wait even longer to begin its 2021 season after the Nittany Lions’ postponed their season-opening match against Rutgers on Saturday “due to positive COVID-19 results among Tier 1 personnel.”

The Big Ten wrestling season began last Friday.

“The institutions will work with the Big Ten Conference to identify rescheduling options,” Penn State said Wednesday in a statement about the postponement. “No determination has been made on how the pause may impact scheduled matches beyond January 16.”

The last time Penn State wrestlers took the mat was last March at Rutgers during the Big Ten Wrestling Championship. Penn State sophomore Aaron Brooks was named the conference’s freshman of the year after posting a 15-1 record and winning the Big Ten title at 184 pounds.

One of the benefits of starting the season two months later than usual has been the extra training time it has afforded Nittany Lions’ wrestlers.

“We’re at the top of what we’ve been at,” Brooks said earlier this week. “We’ve had so much time to prepare just with everything going on with COVID. … I see guys looking really good. … Our cardio is definitely at its peak, and we’ll only get better.”

The Big Ten released its 2021 schedule late last month. As of Wednesday, the Nittany Lions were slated to host Michigan State on Jan. 24. The day’s announcement, however, could alter that matchup.

The Nittany Lions are also scheduled to close out January with a dual-meet date at Northwestern on the next-to-last day of the month, where they hope to face the Wildcats and the Hoosiers.

Penn State this week is ranked the No. 3 tournament team in the nation by wrestling publication Intermat.

Six returning Penn State wrestlers, including Brooks, also received a national ranking from Intermat: Brooks (No. 3), senior Nick Lee (No. 2, 141 pounds), junior Roman Bravo-Young (No. 3, 134 pounds), junior Jarod Verkleeren (No. 10, 149 pounds), junior Brady Berge (No. 11, 157 pounds) and redshirt freshman Michael Beard (No. 13, 197 pounds).

The Nittany Lions this offseason added a number of freshmen who could see early mat time as the program continues to navigate coronavirus protocols. Carter Starocci begins his Penn State career ranked No. 5 by Intermat. Starocci, a redshirt freshman from Erie, went 18-0 wrestling unattached last year with three pins, two tech falls and six major decisions.

“I’m excited about this group,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said earlier this week. “I think it’s a close group with a lot of talent. We have some new faces, and what we’re trying to put together is that next wave to kind of roll through and come together. I think we have the leaders, and the talent needed in addition to that, and the mindset.”  

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