Three WPIAL wrestlers will start for Penn State in season opener
When Penn State opens its wrestling season Sunday, three former WPIAL wrestlers will be in the lineup.
Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson revealed the starting lineup for the match against Kent State, and it includes four NCAA finalists and three champions from 2018: Jason Nolf (Kittanning) at 157 pounds, Vincenzo Joseph (Central Catholic) at 165, Mark Hall at 174 and Bo Nickal at 197.
Penn State has won seven NCAA championships in the past eight seasons under Sanderson, including the past three. Penn State’s other title came in 1953.
The Nittany Lions will be looking for another title in March (21-23) when the tournament comes to PPG Paints Arena.
The other returning starters are: Devin Schnupp at 125, Nick Lee at 141, Shakur Rasheed at 184, and Anthony Cassar at heavyweight. Rasheed and Cassar split time at 197, and Lee, Rasheed and heavyweight Nick Nevills were All-Americans.
The new faces include Hempfield grad Jarod Verkleeren at 149 and freshman Roman Bravo-Young at 133.
“I’m starting? That’s news to me. Coach hadn’t told me yet,” Verkleeren said after learning he probably will get the start. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of once I made my decision to come here.”
Verkleeren was a state champion his only season at Hempfield. He spent his first three years at Belle Vernon. He’ll be taking the place of three-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford.
“Jarod has a unique style and has worked hard,” Sanderson said. “He’s become very good on top in preventing points. Jarod is very good and gotten better and better. I’m excited to watch him wrestle. He’s fun to watch.”
Sanderson said the final starting lineup hasn’t been determined. He said the room has a lot of talent, and he’s eager to see how some of the other wrestlers do at the Keystone Classic Open tournament Nov. 18.
“We still haven’t had wrestle-offs,” Sanderson said. “We’re still deciding what we’re going to do with some of the freshmen.
“In the past, you’d like to redshirt them because college wrestling was a big step up. But they wrestle so much a lot of the freshmen can handle the jump.”
Two freshmen who could crack the lineup are at 125 pounds: Gavin Teasdale (Jefferson-Morgan) and Brody Teske. Another battle will be at heavyweight between Cassar and Nevills, who is returning from an injury from nationals in Cleveland.
“Jason is one of a kind,” Sanderson said. “Watching him returning and win a national title was nothing less than a miracle in my mind.
“Our trainer did a fantastic job, but Jason had to believe and be patient. If you watch him wrestle, he’s not a patient kid. He wants to go and get things done right now. He’s a tremendous leader.”
Nolf said he went back to the basics to protect his knee. Sanderson said dialing it back might help him in the long run.
“He had a great national tournament,” Sanderson said. “It was a very special accomplishment. It showed his mental toughness.”
Other WPIAL wrestlers on the team are Kiski Area’s Joey Blumer at 149, North Allegheny’s Scott Stossel at 133 and Franklin Regional’s Dom Giannangeli at 141.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at Paul at email@example.com.