Penn State Wrestling Set to Restart Season After COVID-19 'Setback'

Penn State allowed wrestlers to visit family over the holidays. Coach Cael Sanderson said the decision was "worth a little setback."
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Penn State has resumed wrestling practice and is poised to host what now becomes its season-opening match Sunday against Michigan State. But, as coach Cael Sanderson said, you never know.

"We're planning on wrestling Sunday but, yeah, we're at the mercy of the tests," Sanderson said.

Penn State paused team activities Jan. 13 and postponed its scheduled opener against Rutgers three days later because of positive test results for COVID-19 within the program. Penn State does not release specific testing details, but Sanderson said he's hopeful the program has "gotten through the worst of it."

Sanderson added that he believes the positive tests resulted partly from the team's decision to allow wrestlers to leave campus and visit their families over the holidays. The coach said "that wasn't a good idea as far as keeping COVID out of the room" but added that he still believes it was the right decision.

"I'd make the same decision again," Sanderson said Tuesday during his weekly media session. "It was a team decision. It was something we discussed as a program and it’s what the kids wanted to do, so I support that 100 percent.

"Yes, we’ve been set back, unfortunately. ... But just the holidays, and spending that time with your family, especially this year, I think is worth a little setback. Obviously we were hoping not to get into the position that we found ourselves, but we’ll deal with it. And I don’t think anyone regrets what we did."

Sanderson said he expects the Rutgers match to be rescheduled.

Wrestlers who continue to test negative have been practicing, while those who tested positive are quarantined and out at least 17 days, Sanderson said. As a result, some wrestlers have to manage their own conditioning and weight plans to remain able to compete.

"We've had a good number of kids in the room," Sanderson said. "... Just whoever is available and allowed to get in there and go, they're going."

Sanderson did not discuss wrestler availability or a potential lineup for the Michigan State match. The available roster won't be determined until Sunday.

Wrestlers need four matches to be eligible for the postseason, so Sanderson intends to stage as many exhibition bouts as possible during the conference dual-meet season. Penn State is scheduled to host the Big Ten championships March 6-7.

Despite the early pause, Penn State remains No. 3 in the InterMat Wrestling rankings behind Iowa and Michigan. Nine Lions are ranked in the InterMat top 25 at their weight classes, led by senior Nick Lee (No. 2 at 141), junior Roman Bravo-Young (No. 3 at 133) and sophomore Aaron Brooks (No. 3 at 184).

"Part of mental toughness is just being able to stay focused on your goals regardless of obstacles or any fog or whatever adversity might appear," Sanderson said. "... Usually obstacles don’t appear in the form that you would expect. That’s why they’re obstacles, right?

"… We’ll be ready when the time is here and it’s here now."

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