The Penn State wrestling team has become arguably the top program in all of college sports, winning seven national titles in the last eight seasons.
Few seem to believe that will change in 2018-19: The Nittany Lions, who return seven All Americans and four past national champions, received all 16 first-place votes in the season’s initial NWCA Division I poll.
Penn State, like many of the nation’s premier programs, opens competition in earnest this weekend when it hosts Kent State. The Nittany Lions have won 45 consecutive dual meets and have three wrestlers — Vincenzo Joseph, Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf — looking to become three-time national champions.
“There’s a lot of great competition in our room,” Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said. “Really, it’s just plug them in the system and go to work….there’s not any secrets or anything magical.”
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Here are some of the key story lines to follow in college wrestling this season.
Ohio State lost one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport with the graduation of Kyle Snyder, the first man to ever win back-to-back Big Ten Athlete of the Year awards. But the Buckeyes — the only team to knock off the Nits, which they did in 2015 — enter the season ranked second in the country, led by three-time All-American Myles Martin. He’ll be looking take on the leadership role vacated by Snyder — and avenge a loss to Nickal in the 184-pound title match a year ago.
“Sharing some of that knowledge and being kind of like a big brother or like a coach to them (is key),” Martin said of his teammates. “I want to win a national title with this team and I want to make everyone better.”
Joey McKenna (141 pounds), Micah Jordan (149 pounds) and Kollin Moore (197 pounds) also have realistic shots at NCAA titles for the Buckeyes.
The man to watch in Iowa City is sophomore Spencer Lee (125 pounds), who cruised to a national title a year ago in his rookie season. Lee, one of four All-Americans back for the third-ranked Hawkeyes, has the look of a potential four-time NCAA champion — and no one would be shocked if Lee made the U.S. Olympic team and competed for a medal in Tokyo in 2020.
“He scores a lot of points. That’s what we want,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said of Lee. “You talk about what kind of influence does he have? Well, he inspires guys to wrestle like Spencer Lee, be like Lee, score a lot of points.”
It’s never a good idea to count out John Smith, who won six world titles as an athlete before leading Oklahoma State to five national titles. Smith has six All-Americans back in 2018 — including two-time defending national champion Dean Heil (141 pounds). The Cowboys will travel to Iowa on Jan. 14 in what could be the dual meet of the year.
Michigan enters 2018-19 ranked fifth in the country. The Wolverines have a new coach, former Big Ten champion Sean Bormet, after longtime coach Joe MacFarland retired following last season. … Lehigh ended Cornell’s 11-year run atop the EWIA standings last season and entered this season ranked sixth. The Mountain Hawks brought back four conference champions. “There’s a fine line about how you define success, but our ultimate goal will always to be to put guys on the podium in March,” said Pat Santoro, the NWCA Coach of the Year in 2018. … Missouri is the favorite in the MAC, N.C. State is expected to win the ACC and Arizona State, under former U.S. Olympic team coach Zeke Jones, is favored in the Pac-12. But the Big Ten is once again the league to watch, with 11 teams ranked in the Top 25 to start the season.
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