By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a second-place finish for Penn State wrestling at the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions have a chance at redemption on the grand stage, the NCAA Tournament.
Just two weeks ago Penn State had three wrestlers make it to the finals, but this weekend the Nittany Lions are seeking more, having taken the last two weeks to prepare for the upcoming three-day event.
"We didn't win the Big Ten, but we didn't come back and panic," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. "We just got beat. Our guys for the most part wrestled well. But, this is the time. If the team wants to win it's real simple, we just have to go score more points than the next team, there really isn't any secret to it."
For Sanderson, sometimes the Big Ten Tournament is one of the best ways to prepare for a national championship run.
"A lot of times the Big Ten Tournament is the best preparation," Sanderson said. "If you train correctly and you have the right mindset that's great preparation for what we're heading into now.
After freshman Nick Suriano injury defaulted out of the Big Ten Tournament, he received an at-large bid and his teammates say he is ready to go.
"He's looking pretty good," junior Matt McCutcheon said. "He's wrestling hard and he's a tough kid. We're all excited for him and I know he's excited. He's going to go out there and compete as hard as he can and that's all we're going to ask of him"
Zain Retherford is one of two Nittany Lions with the top seed in their bracket, also one of eight Penn State wrestlers heading to St. Louis with a top five seed. With a total of nine NCAA qualifiers, there's little doubt that every wrestler will be ready to go.
"All the kids are pretty fresh and hungry to compete," Retherford said. "There are a couple guys that haven't been there yet so I think they're even fine and they're excited. The energy is good we just have to go do it now."
Vincenzo Joseph will be looking to make a run in his first NCAA tournament and will face a tough test to begin. Joseph will square off with Stanford's Keaton Subjeck, who he lost to earlier this season in his Rec Hall debut.
"I had a feeling that was going to happen so I was pretty excited," Joseph said. "But I just have to take it like another match."
Mark Hall, also true freshman for the Nittany Lions will be appearing in his first NCAA tournament along with Suriano, making him yet another important piece if Penn State wants to win the team title.
"Mark's looking great," Sanderson said. "He really wrestled great in the Big Ten Tournament. He knows he's a gamer and this is the game, this is the big game."
While Penn State may seem like a veteran team, coming off of an NCAA title last year, the Nittany Lions actually only feature three upperclassmen, with just one senior, Jimmy Gulibon. Four wrestlers will make their national tournament debut come Thursday.
"It's pretty exciting," sophomore Nick Nevills said. "I'm really looking forward to getting to wrestle in my first NCAA tournament and represent the Nittany Lions."
Although Nevills will be debuting on the mats, he has been to the NCAA Championships nearly 10 times, first attending the event when he was in seventh grade. Nevills is focused on making minor adjustments leading up to the event, especially coming off a strong showing that the Big Ten Tournament.
"I am who I am and I think you can make really small, minor adjustments," Nevills said. "I don't think you're going to change an entire philosophy or change an entire style over a week and if you did I don't know if that would be helpful. Right now the hay is in the barn and the ship is ready to roll so we just have to roll out."
While the Nittany Lions are set to compete in St. Louis they know they'll have a strong following, and plenty of vocal Penn State supporters in attendance.
"It's awesome when you see the bus loads of people coming out and supporting you in the stands it adds an extra level of excitement for you and it gives you another reason to go out and compete even harder," McCutcheon said. "They traveled everywhere with us this year so a big thanks to them for helping us as a team."
The 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships begin with Session I action at 10 a.m. in the Scottrade Center."This has been a great team and we want to finish with a great effort," Sanderson said. "Great moments come from great opportunities, I think this is a great opportunity and we're looking forward to it."