Penn State big fa­vorites for 8th ti­tle in 9 years

The Capital - - SPORTS ON TV - By Luke Mered­ith AP Sports Writer

The Penn State wrestling team has be­come ar­guably the top pro­gram in all of col­lege sports, win­ning seven na­tional ti­tles in the last eight sea­sons.

Few seem to be­lieve that will change in 2018-19: The Nit­tany Li­ons, who re­turn seven All Amer­i­cans and four past na­tional cham­pi­ons, re­ceived all 16 first-place votes in the sea­son’s ini­tial NWCA Divi­sion I poll.

Penn State, like many of the na­tion’s premier pro­grams, opens com­pe­ti­tion in earnest this week­end when it hosts Kent State. The Nit­tany Li­ons have won 45 con­sec­u­tive dual meets and have three wrestlers — Vin­cenzo Joseph, Bo Nickal and Ja­son Nolf — look­ing to be­come three-time na­tional cham­pi­ons.

“There’s a lot of great com­pe­ti­tion in our room,” Nit­tany Li­ons coach Cael San­der­son said. “Re­ally, it’s just plug them in the sys­tem and go to work.there’s not any se­crets or any­thing mag­i­cal.”

Here are some of the key story lines to fol­low in col­lege wrestling this sea­son.

THE BUCK­EYES

Ohio State lost one of the great­est wrestlers in the his­tory of the sport with the grad­u­a­tion of Kyle Snyder, the first man to ever win back-to-back Big Ten Ath­lete of the Year awards. But the Buck­eyes — the only team to knock off the Nits, which they did in 2015 — en­ter the sea­son ranked sec­ond in the coun­try, led by three-time All-Amer­i­can Myles Martin. He’ll be look­ing take on the lead­er­ship role va­cated by Snyder — and avenge a loss to Nickal in the 184-pound ti­tle match a year ago.

“Shar­ing some of that knowl­edge and be­ing kind of like a big brother or like a coach to them (is key),” Martin said of his team­mates. “I want to win a na­tional ti­tle with this team and I want to make ev­ery­one bet­ter.”

Joey McKenna (141 pounds), Micah Jor­dan (149 pounds) and Kollin Moore (197 pounds) also have real­is­tic shots at NCAA ti­tles for the Buck­eyes.

THE HAWKEYES

The man to watch in Iowa City is sopho­more Spencer Lee (125 pounds), who cruised to a na­tional ti­tle a year ago in his rookie sea­son. Lee, one of four Al­lAmer­i­cans back for the third-ranked Hawkeyes, has the look of a po­ten­tial four-time NCAA cham­pion — and no one would be shocked if Lee made the U.S. Olympic team and com­peted for a medal in Tokyo in 2020.

“He scores a lot of points. That’s what we want,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said of Lee. “You talk about what kind of in­flu­ence does he have? Well, he in­spires guys to wres­tle like Spencer Lee, be like Lee, score a lot of points.”

THE COW­BOYS

It’s never a good idea to count out John Smith, who won six world ti­tles as an ath­lete be­fore lead­ing Ok­la­homa State to five na­tional ti­tles. Smith has six Al­lAmer­i­cans back in 2018 — in­clud­ing two-time de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Dean Heil (141 pounds). The Cow­boys will travel to Iowa on Jan. 14 in what could be the dual meet of the year.

THE FIELD

Michi­gan en­ters 2018-19 ranked fifth in the coun­try. The Wolver­ines have a new coach, for­mer Big Ten cham­pion Sean Bormet, af­ter long­time coach Joe MacFar­land re­tired fol­low­ing last sea­son. Le­high ended Cor­nell’s 11-year run atop the EWIA stand­ings last sea­son and en­tered this sea­son ranked sixth. The Moun­tain Hawks brought back four con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons. “There’s a fine line about how you de­fine suc­cess, but our ul­ti­mate goal will al­ways to be to put guys on the podium in March,” said Pat San­toro, the NWCA Coach of the Year in 2018.

Mis­souri is the fa­vorite in the MAC, N.C. State is ex­pected to win the ACC and Ari­zona State, un­der for­mer U.S. Olympic team coach Zeke Jones, is fa­vored in the Pac-12. But the Big Ten is once again the league to watch, with 11 teams ranked in the Top 25 to start the sea­son.

DAVID DERMER/AP

In this March 17, 2018, file photo, Penn State's Bo Nickel cel­e­brates with the tro­phy af­ter Penn State won the NCAA Divi­sion I Wrestling Cham­pi­onships in Cleve­land. The Penn State wrestling team has be­come ar­guably the top pro­gram in all of col­lege sports, win­ning seven na­tional ti­tles in the last eight sea­sons.

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