Even with Big Ten champion Andrew Long off the roster, coach Cael Sanderson said his squad is looking good.
At the Penn State wrestling team’s media day, team members said they are looking to win an NCAA national championship for the second straight year — even without the talented redshirt junior Long, who left the team following attempted rape, aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault charges.
Long's charges stem from an Aug. 12 incident in which the State College Police Department said a woman awoke to find Long in bed with her and touching her intimately. Police said Long refused to leave when the woman told him to “get out of here,” and the woman eventually fled the house and called her husband, who notified law enforcement.
Sanderson said Long voluntarily withdrew from the team and from classes after charges were filed.
The coach also said he doesn't have any regrets about bringing Long onto the team in the first place, adding that Long has yet to complete the legal process and hasn't been declared guilty on his charges.
Sanderson said he wanted to give Long another opportunity to wrestle at Penn State, given his relationship with Long's family and recruitment of Long for the team at Iowa State, which Sanderson then coached.
“Long's a kid that I've had a relationship with prior, and his family. You want to give a kid an opportunity,” Sanderson said. “Is he guilty or not guilty? We'll find out. We know he was guilty of making some bad decisions. He's paying for those decisions now.”
The third-year coach said he's been in contact with Long since he withdrew from the team, saying that he feels Long needs some support and advice.
Given the situation with Long, Sanderson said he does talk to his wrestlers often about the responsibility of representing Penn State and that coaching at a program like Penn State allows him to take risks on athletes like Long.
Long was charged with public intoxication and possession of a fake ID in April 2010 when he attended and wrestled for Iowa State. The wrestler had also been charged with alcohol-related offenses eight months prior to those charges.
After the charges in April 2010, Long was dismissed from the team at Iowa State, transferring to Penn State after being released from his scholarship.
“We talk more about that than anything in the last two years since we've been here,” Sanderson said. “The foundation is great, enough to the point where we can bring in an Andrew Long and give him a chance to make something out of himself and put the ball in his court.”
Long's teammates said Long's ability as a wrestler will be missed. The wrestler out of Iowa went 20-2 last year at 133 pounds, finishing first in the Big Ten and third nationally.
Senior heavyweight and one of Long’s friends Cameron Wade said both he and his teammates will miss Long.
“Obviously, when you lose a great wrestler, it’s going to be a bad thing,” Wade said. “I think we definitely have people who can come in and replace him. I mean, you can’t really replace an Andrew Long, but people will be able to come in and step up. It hurts to see him go as a friend.”
Frank Molinaro, a senior who finished as the runner-up nationally at 149 pounds, winning his third-straight All-American honors, said it won’t be just Long’s talent on the mat that is lost.
His personality will also be missed, Molinaro said.
“He was a good kid, and his personality kind of added a different dimension to the team,” Molinaro said. “He was a good asset to the team. You can never replace Long’s personality, but wrestling-wise, we’re just going to have to throw in someone that’s going to fight hard for seven minutes and someone that wants to win.”
Sanderson also said it will be difficult to fill Long’s shoes at the 133 pound spot. But still, the coach expects whoever fills the void to be able to contribute.
The coach named junior Derek Reber and sophomore Frank Martellotti as two wrestlers who are the leaders right now to fill Long’s vacated role at 133 pounds.
“They’re both competitive. Reber was an NCAA qualifier for Bucknell a couple of years ago. Martellotti was having a great year at 125 last year before he had some academic issues,” Sanderson said. “They’re both competitive guys, both tough, solid kids. Whatever happens there, we need one of them to really get after it for us.”
Martellotti missed much of the spring semester last year when he was academically ineligible. Sanderson said the sophomore will have to sort out those issues if he’s going to contribute this year, but the coach would prefer to name one wrestler the starter at 133 pounds and stick with him.
Regardless of who is called upon to start at that weight, Sanderson said he’s happy with his team as it stands. He also said his team is ready to go, and they’re ready to start the season. The Lions are a hungry team with a strong group of leaders, Sanderson said.
Given the strength of the team and its hunger to win another national title, last season and the loss of Long are in the past, Sanderson said.
“We have a great team and we have as good of a chance as anybody to win the national tournament,” Sanderson said. “I can’t wait to sit back and watch these guys go.”