The Penn State Nittany Lions are known for filling their gym to create a great atmosphere for college wrestling On Friday, for the first time, Penn State will welcome Arizona State to this environment for a contest that could feature a preview of a national championship dual. Here are three matches between Penn State and Arizona State featuring ranked opponents that you won’t want to miss.
Coach Cael Sanderson previews the team's upcoming matchup with Arizona State this Friday! pic.twitter.com/2hoUnLJmKL— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) December 12, 2018
149- No. 11 Josh Maruca vs. No. 12 Brady Berge or Jarod Verkleeren
Penn State redshirt freshman Brady Berge boasts an undefeated record and a second-place finish at the Keystone Classic earlier this month, setting him up for the kind of freshman season that he'll need to be a national title contender in March. In his five wins, he’s recorded three tech falls, the most recent coming against Bucknell in late November. Berge holds a No. 12 Intermat ranking, and could face Arizona State's No. 11 Josh Maruca on Friday, but Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson has also been starting redshirt freshman Verkleeren in this position.
If Verkleeren starts, Maruca will face an unranked Penn State wrestler, but one that has proven himself to be a competitor, having placed fourth at the Keystone Classic and built a 6-2 record so far this season. Against Lehigh, Verkleeren wrestled in place of Berge, winning a 5-3 battle with Jimmy Hoffman. Regardless of the Penn State starter in this match, the 149-pound dual will be a battle for a higher spot in the Intermat rankings.
165- No. 5 Josh Shields vs. No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph
Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph, a two-time NCAA champion who could be in contention for the Hodge Trophy this year, is the clear favorite in the 165-pound weight class nationally, but Friday’s dual will be an opportunity for No. 5 Josh Shields to test himself against the best. The Arizona State redshirt junior recently finished second at SIUE's Cougar Clash, falling only to No. 2 Evan Wick from Wisconsin 5-4. Prior to the SIUE Clash, Shields earned the top spot in the NDSU's Bison Open and has solidified himself as one of the top 165-pounders nationally at this early point in the season.
Shields and Joseph, both Pennsylvania natives, grew up in the competitive wrestling community surrounding Pittsburgh, and this will be a match of grit. Though Joseph is favored and has home mat advantage, a win for Shields would elevate him greatly in the Intermat standings.
174- No. 1 Zahid Valencia vs. No. 2 Mark Hall
The 174-pound match between Arizona State defending national champion Zahid Valencia and 2017 national champion Mark Hall is the rematch that wrestling fans have been talking about since Valencia took down Hall 8-2 last year in Cleveland. In the three matches they’ve wrestled against each other in their college careers, Valencia has won two, once at nationals and once at the All-Star Classic in 2017. Hall’s lone win against Valencia came in the semifinals of the 2017 national championship his true freshman year, but he’ll be looking for another win on Friday.
Heading into the dual, Valencia holds a 43-match win streak that includes 16 pins, and he also maintains a 79-1 record, with the only loss in his collegiate career coming against Hall in 2017. Hall holds a 70-4 career record, but both he and Valencia have 10 total tech falls and over 25 pins. This is a March-style matchup in December and could offer a preview of what to expect at the national tournament.