How Penn State's Freshman Used Their Redshirt Years to Grow on - and off - the Mat

Penn State redshirt freshman Shayne Van Ness

Shayne Van Ness walked into the annex outside the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on Monday swinging a plastic gallon water jug emblazoned with four words written in black Sharpie: Never care, never scared.

"It's just a little thing to remind me that no matter who I'm wrestling, or what's going on, it doesn't matter if he's the No. 1 guy, it doesn't matter if I'm down by 10, I never care and I'm never scared to go after anyone," he told the gaggle of reporters waiting to greet him.

Van Ness, a redshirt freshman, is expected to start at 149 pounds when the Nittany Lions kick off their season Friday against Lock Haven. He's set to be joined by two other of his classmates, Alex Facundo at 165 and Gary Steen at 125.

The trio makes up the small but high-quality 2021 recruiting class. All three were listed in the top 55 on MatScouts' final 2021 Senior Big Board - with Facundo and Van Ness in the top five. All three also used their redshirt seasons last year to grow and learn more about themselves both on and off the mat.

Because he was dealing with an injury, Van Ness' growth happened mostly off the mat.

"I used that year of being injured to really take advantage of finding out who I was outside of wrestling," he said. "Now that I have a greater knowledge of who I am, I'm more confident in my wrestling and I think that's really going to show, especially this weekend and this season."

The two-time National Prep champ kept himself plenty busy over the past year. He's used his time off the mat to expand his taste in music, adding country, gospel and electronic club music to his typical rap selection. He's also spent a lot of time reading and developing an interest in mental health and mindset, which has inspired him to want to be a psychology major.

And more recently, Van Ness said, he's been developing his faith in God. He, along with Steen, his roommate, has been attending a Penn State Christian Athletes Bible study and also learning from their teammates.

"They always preach about having gratitude, putting faith in God and to just be blessed," Steen said about his fellow athletes and coaches in Penn State's room.

While Facundo, who went 11-3 wrestling unattached last season, has spent more time on the mat competing in the past year than the other two, he also said he's also grown with his mindset and maturity.

Facundo was busy this summer, winning the U.S. Open and the Pan American Championships in the U20 division and competing at the U20 World Championships in Bulgaria.

"I think that this summer has been a huge, huge help. Not just with my wrestling abilities but also with my mental state and how I am as a wrestler," Facundo said. "So, I'm starting to get the grasp of this college wrestling."

In addition to personal growth, all three also said they've made improvements on the mat. Head coach Cael Sanderson showered praise on each of them Monday.

"Starting with Van Ness, he's a goer and he just had some nagging injuries he had to take care of, so he didn't get a chance to wrestle as much," Sanderson said. "But he's really good and just a tough kid. So he's going to compete hard and he's healthy and excited to go.

"Facundo, he got a lot more experience, more matches. But same thing, great kid," Sanderson said. "Just quality student-athletes all across the board and they're very good wrestlers, so we're excited to watch them compete."

One thing Van Ness said he's learned from his coach is a self-motivation technique. Just as Sanderson used to say to himself, "I'm ready" before every match, Van Ness said he also developed a two-word phrase to help center his mind before competition.

"Apply pressure."

"I'm going to move forward, I'm going to go after guys," he said. "I'm going to apply pressure in my hand fighting and make them never want to wrestle me again."

There's no question that these freshmen have learned a lot in their redshirt years. But now is the time for them to put what they've learned to the test in their Rec Hall debuts.

All three said that - despite a little bit of nerves - they're ready to get started and show everyone what they've been working on.

"I'm always nervous for matches big or small," Facundo said."There's always some expectation. But I try to put that aside and go out there, wrestle my match and have some fun and score a lot of points."


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