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Previewing The Enemy: No. 1 Penn State Wrestling vs. No. 24 Kent State

You’ve waited long enough and endured enough emotionally draining football games, folks. College wrestling is finally back in Happy Valley, and you can once again watch a team that won’t break your heart week-in and week-out. Or ever.

No. 1 Penn State begins its three-time national title defense this weekend when it hosts Kent State at Rec Hall on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Nittany Lions enter the 2018-19 season with as high of hopes as ever — as they seemingly do every year. The Golden Flashes represent the first stop on Cael Sanderson’s quest for his eighth NCAA title in nine years. Like most of the stops along the way, Sunday should bring smooth sailing and plenty of bonus points for his team.

A Look At Kent State

There isn’t much to be said about Kent State.

There’s only one ranked wrestler on the team. In the last four seasons, the Golden Flashes have finished in fourth, ninth, second, and sixth place in the Mid-American Conference. And just last week, they lost to Division II Ashland.

Kent State sits at 3-1 after beginning its season with a series of duals against four non-Division I opponents. The Golden Flashes will wrestle three duals Friday night against significantly better competition (CSU-Bakersfield, Wisconsin, and Iowa), so don’t be surprised if they own a losing record when they wander into Rec Hall on Sunday.

Last year, Kent State finished in 22nd place at the NCAA Championships. Four Golden Flashes qualified for the tournament, all as unseeded wrestlers. The only returning NCAA qualifier is No. 2 197-pounder Kyle Conel, who is also the only ranked Golden Flash and the only one to place at nationals.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. After all, he helped solidify Penn State’s title run with two monumental upset wins over top-seeded Kollin Moore of Ohio State en route to a third place finish. A year after walking away from wrestling entirely, Conel emerged as a fan-favorite with one of the sport’s best Cinderella stories. He went 6-1 with two falls during the three-day tournament to cap of a 30-11 junior season. Now, he’s ranked No. 2 and ahead of Moore, showing how far he’s come since returning to wrestling.

 The Golden Flashes have been using the surplus of duals during the first two weeks of the season to work out the kinks in their lineup. Twenty-one different wrestlers have competed in Kent State’s four duals thus far. Friday’s duals should give a better idea of what head coach Jim Andrassy plans to do this weekend and down the stretch this season.

Outside of Conel, Kent State has three other returning starters. Nick Monico (149 lbs.), Isaac Bast (165 lbs.), and Dylan Barreiro were a combined 64-50 last season. At 7-0, Barreiro seems to have made the biggest jump over the summer. Unfortunately for him, he’s running into a buzzsaw this weekend when he matches up with No. 2 Mark Hall, who’s been waiting to get back onto the mat since behind handed his only loss of the season in the NCAA Finals eight months ago.

Key Matchups

197 lbs. No. 1 Bo Nickal vs. No. 2 Kyle Conel

Although wrestling’s best feel good story continues to get better and better, don’t expect to root for Conel on Sunday like you did in March. He’ll wrestle the only person ranked ahead of him: No. 1 Bo Nickal, who will make his 197 lb. debut after moving up during the offseason.

Although No. 1 facing No. 2 will make for an exciting jumpstart to the season, don’t expect Nickal to struggle much against Conel. As Nickal showed while wrestling at 184 lbs. during the last two seasons, there seems to be a sizable gap between him and everyone else, even the wrestlers ranked right behind him. How Nickal adjusts to the new weight class and to wrestling with a bit of added muscle will be interesting to watch. What better way to make a statement and lay claim to his new weight class than beating its second-ranked wrestler with bonus points?

133 lbs. Roman Bravo-Young vs. Raphael Rodriguez

Fans will get their first glimpse of Roman Bravo-Young, who projects to be the next big star to pass through Happy Valley. Kent State’s likely start Raphael Rodriguez won’t pose a problem for the agile, aggressive freshman from Arizona. Be ready for Bravo-Young to score a few bonus points, flash some crafty moves, and put on a show for a Rec Hall crowd that’s been yearning for some stability at 133 lbs.

125 lbs. Devin Schnupp vs. Tomas Gutierrez

Outside of 197 lbs., this is the only bout Kent State has a chance at winning. Schnupp should pull out a win, and we’re interested to see how he’s progressed since last year, when he struggled to a 1-14 record. 

And maybe — just maybe — some major offseason strides will make Sanderson confident enough to keep both Gavin Teasdale’s AND Brody Teske’s redshirts intact, considering how strong the team is at every other weight. But that’s wishful thinking, even for Penn State.

Prediction: Penn State 46 Kent State 0

Penn State will have no issues with Kent State. Expect a flurry of falls that will surely get an eager, wrestling-starved Rec Hall crowd on its feet. This one might be over by 3 p.m., so don’t be late.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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