Penn State Wrestlers Eye Penn, Rival Lehigh After Thanksgiving Break,
PENN STATE’S Roman Bravo-Young, at right, is the top ranked 133-pounder in the land. Photo by Tim Weight | Gazette file photo
With Thanksgiving just days past, it’s appropriate that most Penn State fans are probably grateful that the No. 2 Nittany Lions return to the mat this weekend.
Penn State travels to Philadelphia for a 7 p.m. Friday dual meet in the Palestra with Penn and then returns home for a showdown with its oldest rival, Lehigh, at 2 p.m. Sunday.
While thankful for the brief respite, the Nittany Lions are eager to return to action.
“I think we’re just excited to compete and we want to use competition as our greatest tool just to improve and practice competing the way we want to compete at the end of the season,” head coach Cael Sanderson said Monday via Zoom during the team’s weekly media availability.
“I think it gives us a good amount of time between matches to prepare for the next match and, with the time of the year, we like the way that the setup is. We head into this next weekend with two big matches coming up with UPenn and Lehigh, a couple in-state rivals with teams that have a lot of support a lot of really, really great wrestlers and coaching staffs.”
Sanderson said where possible, he and the staff gave the wrestlers enough of a break to return home and enjoy the holiday with family.
“We have a lot of confidence and trust in in our wrestlers and that they’re gonna take care of themselves over the break. But you know, we really value them having time with their families,” Sanderson said.
“I think spending Thanksgiving with your family if you can, or just taking that time is important.”
Top-ranked 133-pounder Roman Bravo-Young, who is from Arizona, said he didn’t get a chance to go home, but he enjoyed the break nonetheless.
“It’s good just to get a little reset. Sometimes school and practice every day gets a little old. There’s no sun and it’s just the same routine,” he said. “On Thanksgiving, we just hung out here. It is what it is. You’ve got to sacrifice sometimes.”
Penn State hasn’t yet released its projected lineup for the weekend duals, but the lineup figures to be very similar, if not exactly the same, as it sent on the mat on Nov. 18 against Army. That lineup included the debut of Terrell Barraclough as the starting 157-pounder. Despite a rough 9-0 loss to start the season, Sanderson said fans should expect better days ahead for Barraclough.
“Terrell earned that spot. He’s only wrestled one match but you know, we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a tough kid. He’s going to work hard. And he’s going to be very competitive,” Sanderson said.
“I think a lot more competitive than maybe people think just because he had a rough match, tricky match where he got caught underneath and wasn’t able to get away and got turned. But Terrell’s a tough kid.”
Sanderson didn’t seem to flinch at a question about another tough kid announcing that he would be joining Michigan’s roster for spring semester — former Nittany Lion and Rutgers NCAA champion Nick Suriano. That move could position the Wolverines as a challenger to Iowa and Penn State for conference and national supremacy.
“I think it’s exciting. I don’t think it’s that unusual. There’s usually a lot of great wrestling in the conference, several teams that have chances to win the conference tournament, win the national tournament, so I think it’s exciting. A lot of great teams, a lot of great individuals,” he said.
Bravo-Young, who is clearly another of those “great individuals,” explained why he’s said repeatedly that he not only wants to win, but also entertain fans.
“I think it’s just the way I’ve always been wired. I like to put on a little show. That’s the way I’m going to be the rest of my career and whatever else I get myself into as I get older. I just like the attention out there. You know, it’s fun. That’s what makes it worth it,” Bravo-Young said.
The senior will have to go a long way to top the show he put on Nov. 18 against Army. As he closed out a technical fall, he literally leapfrogged his opponent for the final takedown. He said he can’t anticipate what he might try during a bout.
“Yeah, it’s funny. I don’t even practice it; it just happens in match. It’s just ‘oh, what can I do?’ You really don’t practice that stuff. I don’t think Cael and Cody want me jump around getting hurt in practice. So, it’s kind of just an in-the-moment thing and if it happens and it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I get hurt, it is what it is. It’s kind of my mindset.”
Perhaps because it’s unscripted and part of a mindset, Bravo-Young admitted that he even surprises himself with some of his acrobatics.
“Oh, 100 percent. Not a lot of people could go out there and do it. People are so amazed and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know how I did it.’ But it’s cool. It makes you want to do other stuff,” he said.
“We play in a very competitive conference with a lot of talented players and coaches. Every night will bring a new challenge. I look forward to taking on those challenges with this group. I’m excited to get in the gym every day and help these student-athletes grow not only as basketball players but also as people. They are a great group to be around.