Team's focus includes qualifying
By: Andrew Robinson
Collegian Staff Writer
When the NCAA established a new system for distributing automatic bids to the national wrestling championship, the qualifications changed and every match took on a little more meaning. Though the Big Ten still has 61 bids, the next closest number being the Big 12's 37 bids, many wrestlers at this weekend's Big Ten Wrestling Championship had qualifying on their list.
"The focus is we want to do as well as we can here, get the kids to the finals, or back to third, the key is you got to be in it to win it," Penn State head coach Troy Sunderland said. "Then you can get to nationals and get away from a Big Ten kids and see some other wrestlers. Anything can happen at nationals."
The coaching staff for Penn State made sure that none of their wrestlers were looking at qualifying as a goal, but rather an expectation. If they won their matches, assistant coach Matt Dernlan said, then they would qualify as a part of that process.
As in any sport, having goals for the season motivates the wrestlers through the season, and merely qualifying is not enough. For junior Bubba Jenkins, who secured his spot at nationals with a win over Andrew Nadhir of Northwestern, he knows the focus of the season is to end as the best.
"I didn't feel like I was in jeopardy of not going to nationals, what I was focusing on was making it to the finals," Jenkins said. "I'm there, now I just have to focus on getting to the top of the podium, not just on top, but the very top."
Joining Jenkins as qualifiers were Brad Pataky, Dan Vallimont, Quentin Wright and Jake Strayer. Besides giving the Nittany Lions more opportunities to score points, it opens the chance for three redshirt freshmen to qualify. Frank Molinaro and Tim Darling will qualify with wins in the seventh place matches for 125 and 157 pounds, respectively. Heavyweight Cameron Wade won two straight consolation matches and needs one more win to seal his bid.
The coaching staff has preached expectation all week in preparation, they were not going to be happy with merely competing to qualify, they wanted to win Big Tens. After the Big Ten champions were announced, then the team would look at who made it and begin to plan how to cause the most damage at nationals, all leading back to expectations of winning.
"The overall goal that Penn State wrestling has to realize is the athletes and even overall, the standard of the fans has to be higher," assistant coach Mark Perry said. "You have to expect to win, our kids have to expect to win. We have to expect to be the best."
Dernlan said that focusing only on winning was the best way to ensure a wrestler's goals were met. Any wrestler simply trying to get into nationals would fall far short. As a result, the coaches made sure their gameplan was not centered on what may happen, but how to make it happen.
And while nationals are two weeks away, the team has started preparing just by being in the field at Big Tens. Getting the young wrestlers experience is vital, and it helps grind the Penn State mentality into their training, so that when the time comes, they are ready to step up and meet the expectations.
"Winning every match is going to take care of our qualifier spots and position us," Dernlan said. "We'll take as many guys in and position ourselves of the best possible run at nationals in two weeks."
Tags: Brad Pataky, Bubba Jenkins, Cameron Wade, Dan Vallimont, Frank Molinaro, Jake Strayer, Matt Dernlan, Quentin Wright, Tim Darling, Troy Sunderland