Blue White Illustrated

January 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 43 of 67

4 4 J A N U A R Y 2 0 2 2 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M C all it a team-bonding moment or just good wrestling, but if Penn State can achieve its goal of winning a national team title in March, it may well be able to cite its December trip to Florida as an integral step in the process. The second-ranked Nittany Lions might not have a starting lineup that's etched in stone, and wrestling moves from arm bars to cradles may not yet be as polished as they would like, but head coach Cael Sanderson's aggressive, point-scoring style consistently was on display for the first time all season at the Collegiate Wrestling Duals Dec. 20-21 at Niceville, Fla. Penn State defeated No. 22 North- ern Iowa, 29-9; No. 11 Cornell, 21-16; and No. 6 Arizona State, 29-10, to win the Blue Pool at the dual meet tourna- ment and move to 8-0 this season. Iowa emerged on top in the Red Pool, topping Lehigh and Central Michigan en route to the cham- pionship match, then nipping North Carolina State, 19-15, for the title. Penn State is headed for showdowns with the top-ranked Hawkeyes Jan. 28 in Iowa City, as well as twice in March at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. This year's conference and national tournaments already look to be as bal- anced and rugged as ever. To achieve their ninth national crown since 2011, the Li- ons' four defending NCAA champions must continue their next-level prowess, and the rest of the lineup, once settled, will have to win clutch matches and stay close in those in the handful of bouts in which they might be labeled as underdogs. All of that happened in Florida. But now comes the conference season, which will pose an even bigger challenge. For Penn State, the Big Ten dual meet campaign begins Jan. 7 with a visit to Maryland. Later, the Nittany Lions will face Rutgers, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska, all of which are expected to pose threats to Sanderson's squad. Sophomore Beau Bartlett, who is in his second season as the team's starting 149-pounder, said he believes the Lions are making the move toward March. "It's becoming the same feeling I had in high school — getting tight, that closeness, that bond. We feel the energy," said Bartlett, a four-time national prep champion out of Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pa. "Everyone is cheering ev- eryone on. I can't put a specific word on it, but I feel it, the coaches feel it, it's getting better." Penn State added graduate transfer Drew Hildebrandt to its roster in late De- cember, and the arrival of the two-time All-American figures to ease the strug- gles the team has had at 125 pounds since Nick Suriano left Penn State for Rutgers in 2017. Last season, Hildebrandt went 14-2 for Central Michigan and finished fourth at the NCAA Tournament. If Sanderson can establish consis- tency at 157 and 165 pounds, two other weight classes that can be described as hot-and-cold thus far, more postseason success is within reach. J I M C A R L S O N | B L U E W H I T E C O N T R I BU TO R LIONS FLASH POSTSEASON POTENTIAL AT COLLEGIATE WRESTLING DUALS Junior 184-pounder Aaron Brooks raised his season record to 6-0 when he pinned Arizona State's Josh Nummer in the Blue Pool championship match at the Collegiate Wrestling Duals. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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