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With High Expectations, Penn State Wrestling Is ‘Ready To Roll’ Ahead Of Nationals

The Nittany Lions’ presence will be heavy this week in Detroit at the 2022 NCAA Championships.

Nine Nittany Lions qualified for the tournament, and four of those athletes will hit the mat as No. 1 seeds. The expectations are high, but it’s no surprise that the Nittany Lions are a favorite to win the national championship this week.

To date, head coach Cael Sanderson has brought Penn State eight national titles since arriving in Happy Valley about a decade ago. Despite his program’s success, he’s focused on simply helping his team perform its best.

“We’re never worried about not reaching our goals, and we’re not worried about losing,” Sanderson said. “We just want to be the best we can be, and regardless of the outcome, we’re going to be our best the next day.”

The week before the tournament is full of training to solidify that Penn State’s NCAA qualifiers are in good shape. However, at a certain point, one can train only so hard. It’s often more important to get the team in the right mindset and offer the right support to facilitate success.

“At this point, it’s not about motivating a kid to want to go national tournament. They’ve wanted to win the national tournament their whole life, so it’s just about supporting them right now,” Sanderson said.

Perhaps the best support a wrestler can have is a good mindset. Top-seeded 141-pounder Nick Lee says staying loose and having fun should translate to success on the mat. He turns to video games to stay relaxed before high-pressure situations.

“You definitely don’t want to get too anxious,” Lee said. “We work really hard. We’re training hard right now, but I think it’s always important to keep it light. It keeps anxiety low, and we’re also just guys who like to have fun. That’s important to keep in mind.”

Lee, who’s defending a national title, knows what to expect after already wrestling in three national tournaments. He says he’s advising his teammates to let loose and enjoy wrestling on the nation’s largest stage.

“Very few people on Earth are going to be able to wrestle in a national championship, which is probably the most fun tournament on the planet with all the fans there,” Lee said. “I would just say, ‘Don’t try to block things out.’ Just really enjoy it and have fun, because it’s an opportunity not a lot of people are going to have.”

Elsewhere on the roster, 197-pounder Max Dean says he’s focusing more on himself than his teammates. He’s not being selfish, though. Instead, he says he’s taking a page out of Sanderson’s book and doing right by himself first and foremost.

“Obviously, I love my teammates and want to see them do really well and support them. But at the same time, I need to go out and score points,” said Dean, who’s gearing up for his first NCAA Championships since taking second place in 2019. “In order to do that, I need to stay in my routine and stay focused on what I need. I think that’s the way that I can best serve everybody.”

Penn State had an undefeated regular season that concluded with a Big Ten regular-season championship. Although the Nittany Lions couldn’t come away with a tournament title, four wrestlers earned individual conference crowns.

This skilled team walks onto the mat with confidence, and Sanderson is convinced he knows what fans will see this week.

“We’re gonna go in there, and we’re going to give our best effort,” Sanderson said. “That’s what we’re going to do, and I think that’s what real fans support can expect. That’s what we’re going to get.”

A few weeks ago, the Nittany Lions entered the Big Ten Championships as heavy contenders. Despite the second-place finish, only finishing by a point and a half behind Michigan, Sanderson is more than confident in his squad.

“I think, for the most part, our guys wrestled pretty well at the Big Tens,” Sanderson said. “We got nine guys through healthy, and we’re ready to roll here for the nationals. The nationals are always really what we focus on, and our guys know that. So, the past is the past…We’re moving on.”

More details about Penn State’s NCAA Championships schedule — including when wrestlers compete — should be available soon. The entire tournament will be broadcast on ESPNU or ESPN from March 17 to 19.

We’ll keep you posted all weekend long with session recaps, live blogs, and minute-by-minute tweets. Until then, browse the full list of this year’s brackets online and get excited for an action-packed tournament.

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About the Author

Gabriel Herman

Gabriel Herman is a journalism major at Penn State from Minneapolis, MN. He writes about several sports-related topics. If you want to discuss great moments in Minnesota sports history, you can reach him at [email protected].

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