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Nick Nevills May Provide Missing Piece For Penn State Wrestling’s Title Run

Penn State wrestling has dominated nearly every facet of the sport this season. With four wrestlers holding top ranked spots in their respective weight classes according to the InterMat rankings, Penn State wrestling has not only succeeded on a team level, but also on an individual level.

Penn State didn’t have a wrestler even near the top 20 at heavyweight earlier in the season. Now, with the return of Nick Nevills, the Nittany Lions have the No. 17 heavyweight wrestler in the nation. Nevills has seen only two dual matches — one a loss to Lehigh’s No. 14 Max Wessell and the other a win against Michigan State — along with the four matches at the US Collegiate Open, which he won. Now, he’s gearing up for the Big Ten Tournament in Iowa City on March 5 and 6. “I’m looking forward to it,” Nevills said. “I’m excited for this weekend.”

Prior to Nevills’ return, Jan Johnson and Wes Phipps got the majority of the starts at heavyweight for Penn State. Nevills committed as the No. 1 ranked heavyweight high school wrestler in the nation in 2013, and he was expected to be the starter this year after redshirting last year. An injury postponed those plans until today, where Nevills is starting to make his ascent to the level both fans and coaches expected him to be.

Of course, it’s completely unfair to expect him to capture the heavyweight title this weekend. Even with the US Collegiate Open title to his name, the level of competition in the Big Ten Tournament far superior. “None of the competition was national caliber competition,” Nevills said in reference to the US Collegiate Open, “but it was still nice to get out there, get some confidence, get some shots, and put myself in some positions that I haven’t been in a while.”

While it may be unfair to expect Nevills to bring home an individual title as he goes up against No. 2 Kyle Snyder from Ohio State, No. 4 Adam Coon from Michigan, and No. 7 Sam Stoll from Iowa — among four other wrestlers ranked higher than him in the pre-seeds — it is fair to expect him to rack up quite a few points in the tournament.

Keep in mind, wrestling is more than just winning individual matches. Each match won means that wrestler will place higher, meaning that school will get more overall points. Guys like Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Morgan McIntosh (the No. 1 seeds on the team) are expected to make it far, if not win their individual classes. It’s the other wrestlers like Geno Morelli, Nico Megaludis, Jordan Conaway, and Nick Nevills who will dictate Penn State’s overall placing in the tournament. Quality finishes from them will only help the Nittany Lions.

Nick Nevills, even with only a few matches under his belt, knows his skills and what he can do, and he’s confident he can take on anyone. “I’m going into the Big Ten Tournament ready to wrestle anyone,” Nevills said. “It doesn’t matter who I wrestle first or second or who I have to wrestle in my third or fourth match, I’m just going to wrestle and go to the top of the podium and do what I can do and make Penn State happy.”

It sounds like a lot of confidence for a guy who just started live competition a few weeks ago, but there are good reasons why he should have such confidence. He’s 1-0 in Big Ten dual matches this season, and followed up the standout performance with a win in the US Collegiate Open. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it gave him the confidence necessary to carry that momentum into the Big Ten Tournament.

That is why Nick Nevills is the missing piece to Penn State’s championship puzzle. Up until now, the Nittany Lions didn’t have a realistic shot of getting out of the first session at heavyweight. Cael Sanderson and the coaches made the right decision with sending Nevills to Colorado for the tournament during the Oklahoma State match, and Nevills responded to that decision in a positive manner. “I obviously wanted to stay and wrestle the Oklahoma State dual and stay home, but the coaches thought it would be better if I got more matches, so I was okay with it.”

Nevills came out of the tournament with four more matches to his collegiate name, learning and improving upon his previous two performances. “I opened up a lot more at this Colorado tournament,” he said. “I got a chance to wrestle a couple times in a short amount of time.” As for what he thought of his performance, he couldn’t complain after the tournament. “I thought I did pretty well,” Nevills explained. “I scored 49 points in four matches.”

With the growing confidence and development of the previously No. 1 ranked high school heavyweight wrestler in the nation, Nevills knows he can make it far in the Big Ten Tournament. Looking beyond this, the NCAA guaranteed seven automatic heavyweight bids for the Big Ten to the NCAA Tournament. There are only eight wrestlers in the heavyweight bracket, meaning Nevills only needs to place above one to move on to Nationals. Nevills and the rest of the coaching staff knows he can place better than seventh — something that should skyrocket Nevills’ confidence level.

As Nevills continues to prepare and get even stronger for the two upcoming tournaments — arguably the biggest two tournaments of his life — he is ready to do whatever it takes to, as he put it, “make Penn State happy.”  The Nittany Lions’ new heavyweight can surely make a difference in getting Penn State as many team points as possible in the Big Ten and, if he qualifies, the NCAA Tournament.

What was once considered a soft spot for Penn State wrestling is now filled by a heavyweight looking for his opportunity to shine. He may not be crowned an individual champion next weekend in Iowa City or during the NCAA Tournament in New York City, but you can bet this kid is only going to help Penn State overall. The Nittany Lions found a guy that won’t only score some extra points for the team over the next few weeks, but someone poised to succeed on an individual level. “It will be really fun to wrestle at the Big Ten’s this weekend,” Nevills said, “I’m ready to go.”

It may just be Nevills’ time to shine.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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