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Penn State Wrestling Excited, ‘Pretty Darn Healthy’ Heading Into NCAA Tournament

Penn State wrestling is officially getting ready for what could be the team’s 10th national title. With the NCAA Tournament scheduled to begin on Thursday, March 18, nine Nittany Lions will compete for the podium with four already top three-seeded.

With just days until the tournament’s first bouts begin, coach Cael Sanderson said his squad has been training harder than ever and hasn’t slowed down since the Big Ten Tournament ended.

“We’ve been training hard this week,” Sanderson explained in a press conference this past Friday. “It’s not really a week of rest. We have a couple more days of really hard training and then we’ll kind of cut back and let these guys get ready for the tournament. But it’s all about making sure these guys are ready for Thursday. Making sure our technique and conditioning is up to par.”

Due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nittany Lions are technically still the reigning champs defending their 2019 national title.

However, unlike the team’s last championship campaign, in this tournament, most teams are entering matches having wrestled significantly less often than in a ~normal~ season. Fortunately, all things considered, Sanderson believes his team is pretty healthy going into the tournament.

“I think we’re pretty darn healthy right now, relatively speaking,” said Sanderson. “With the Big Ten Tournament, I’m sure everyone came out there, doubling their matches from the year, had guys come out banged up and were sore. You’re going to have some tweaks here and there. I’m sure nationals will be the same way. Nationals are a couple of matches a day, so even though it’s not like the Big Ten Tournament, we feel great. These guys look great.”

Among those who were banged up and sore was Aaron Brooks, who suffered an ankle injury mid-match in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals before going on to win that match and later secure his second Big Ten title at 184 pounds. Brooks is seeded No. 1 in his weight class heading into his opening bout against the winner of a matchup between George Washington’s No. 32 Jhaquan Anderson and Sacred Heart’s No. 33 Joe Accousti.

Despite pressure to perform well in his first NCAA tournament, Brooks hasn’t changed his approach.

“Wrestling’s wrestling,” Brooks said. “Whatever seeding, it’s just numbers. Just like rankings, whenever you’re not ranked number one you have the same mindset. So, I think if you allow it to change your mindset, you’re kind of doing the wrong thing. Just focusing on wrestling, what got you there, and whoever’s in front of you. You focus on that match by match.”

Brooks also said he’s excited to see how some of the Nittany Lions’ youngest wrestlers will perform on the national stage.

“They love to compete. They love to go out there and relax and wrestle,” Brooks exclaimed. “When you see that in young guys, it’s very rare. You know a lot of times we put pressure on ourselves when we first get to college, so just the fact that they can put all that stuff to the side and just go do what they love to do is what stands out to me the most.”

With nine Nittany Lions ready to capture their first individual national titles, this year’s tournament is sure to be exciting. The 2021 NCAA Tournament kicks off Thursday, March 18, with championship bouts on Saturday, March 20. Streaming info has yet to be announced.

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About the Author

Katie Moats

Katie Moats is a senior majoring in English, and her goal this year is to get a big girl job. Seriously, though, if you're looking for someone who can write and edit like nobody's business, she's Katelyn Moats on LinkedIn and will literally interview with you tomorrow. You can follow her @k_moats24 on Twitter for stupid content, but if it's something serious, feel free to shoot her an email (preferably in the form of a poem) to [email protected]

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