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Cael Sanderson, Penn State wrestling embrace high expectations

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, 6:41 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Vincenzo Joseph's stunning final-round victory in the NCAA Wrestling Championships last April generated at least five YouTube videos that have gotten a combined 84,000 hits.

In the 165-pound title bout, Joseph executed a daring inside trip move in the third period and pinned two-time defending champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois. Joseph (Central Catholic) became Penn State's first freshman national champion.

Yet, in the six months since, Joseph never has watched a replay of the match.

"I'm not gonna sit down, turn on my computer and watch myself wrestle from last (season)," Joseph said Thursday. "I'm focused on this year."

Joseph is one of five returning individual champs at Penn State, which has won six of the past seven national team titles. The Nittany Lions will open the dual-meet season Nov. 9 against Army.

Penn State was a unanimous pick for the No. 1 spot in the preseason coaches poll.

"Being ranked No. 1 … I guess it's good, right?" coach Cael Sanderson said with a small grin. "Or maybe it doesn't really matter to us. I don't care how we're ranked. We want to finish well.

"It's easy to be an underdog, because that means your expectations are low. Based on our history, we want high expectations. It's a greater challenge, and it's more exciting."

Senior Zain Retherford will be trying for his third straight title at 149 pounds. Redshirt junior Jason Nolf (157 pounds), sophomore Mark Hall (174) and redshirt junior Bo Nickal (184) also were part of Penn State's sweep in the finals.

"Just because we had five guys win last year doesn't mean it's any easier for those guys to win this year," Sanderson said. "It's a new set of challenges for each guy."

Joseph's challenge will include more showdowns against Martinez, who beat him in a dual meet and in the Big Ten tournament before their matchup at NCAAs.

"If anything, it's a reminder I have to work harder this year, Joseph said. "The guys who are coming back in my weight (class) are going to be better, they're going to be tougher. I have to do the same thing."

After placing third in the Big Ten, Joseph went into NCAAs with a 17-4 record. He rolled up five impressive wins, including a major decision and the pin in front of ESPN's cameras.

Twenty-nine Penn State wrestlers have won a total of 37 individual crowns, but that list does not include a four-time champ. Could Joseph become the first?

"That's going to be up to Joseph, right?" Sanderson said. "You win a national title, you're going to believe in yourself a little bit more. When you believe in yourself a little bit more, you're going to be a little bit more committed, fight a little bit harder. When you do those little things, you have more success. He's stepped up his game a level, but that's still something that he's going to have to show."

Notes: Penn State has sold out its entire slate of home dual meets. The match against No. 7 Iowa on Feb. 10 will be held at the Bryce Jordan Center, which seats 15,200. The other seven home duals, including the Feb. 3 match against No. 2 Ohio State, which be held at 6,500-seat Rec Hall. "We haven't really considered doing two (matches at the Jordan Center), but maybe we should," Sanderson said. … Pitt is ranked No. 24 in the preseason coaches poll.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

Penn State's Cael Sanderson yells during a 141-pound match during the Big Ten championships on Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Penn State's Cael Sanderson yells during a 141-pound match during the Big Ten championships on Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Penn State’s Zain Retherford celebrates with coaches Cael and Cody Sanderson after beating Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen by a 10-1 major decision in their 149-pound championship bout at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, March 19, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State’s Zain Retherford celebrates with coaches Cael and Cody Sanderson after beating Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen by a 10-1 major decision in their 149-pound championship bout at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, March 19, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
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