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Although some fans noted that Penn State’s wrestling team was not at full strength last week when the nation’s No. 1 team dropped a dual to the Arizona State Sun Devils — 184-pound Shakur Rasheed sat out and 197-pound Kyle Conel wore a knee brace — the Nittany Lions’ roster wasn’t the only one ailing.
Fewer looked at the Sun Devils’ lineup that night and thought they might have issues, too. However, ASU wrestled two of their starters who were hampered to some degree by injury.
Both 157-pound Jacori Teemer, who had sat out since Journeymen Duals, and 197-pound Kordell Norfleet, who has not seen the mat since Penn State last season, both battled through less-than-optimal physical condition to face Penn State. In just about a week they’ll have another shot to wrestle at the 2019 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational.
According to Teemer, he felt around 80 percent healthy in the match, while Norfleet was healthy yet worried he would reinjure himself.
Head coach Zeke Jones waited day by day until they were officially cleared to wrestle. The week of the dual was quite stressful as Teemer and Norfleet were eyeing their return, too.
“They went from doubtful to questionable to probable, and they weren’t cleared to go until right before competition,” Jones said.
Teemer was afraid he would not return for the biggest dual of the season.
“Coming in the whole week, I felt like I might not be wrestling or I might wrestle,” Teemer told FloWresting. “Toward later in the week, I started feeling great. I had to get in the lineup and wanted to be a part of this victory. My win counted toward a dub and it felt great.”
Teemer returned in fashion as he defeated Bo Pipher 9-4. Although it was a close match, Teemer withstood the pain through the adrenaline of 8,500 fans and captured the victory.
“When the energy is like that, you just forget about everything,” he said. “I wrestled great and felt great.”
The great win over Pipher led to the momentum and encouragement for Norfleet.
After a year off, though, coach Jones knew it was tough for Norfleet to come right back to competition.
“He was hungry. He was eager. He went through all the emotions,” Jones said. “As he got toward competition, he got really excited — he was getting rambunctious. Now it’s like letting an animal out of the cage.”
Even though he was eager, the 197-pound dark horse had to switch his style after bulking up over the year-long break.
“I got a little bit bigger, but I also took time to refine my whole wrestling style,” Norfleet said. “I got away from attacking as much and I just tried to get back to that.”
He showed no sign of injuries as he dominated Kyle Conel 10-4. This match meant a lot to Norfleet.
“I’m glad I can just play my role and help us get it done. I wanted that one,” Norfleet said.
Norfleet and Teemer now jump into the rankings at No. 20 and No. 21. Despite the recognition, both of them realized they would rather help the Sun Devil squad to a national title.
“They can keep me unranked,” Norfleet said. “I’m one of those people who would rather knock off ranked people and being like the dark horse in people’s brackets.”
Coach Jones agrees that the rankings are good accolades for a squad with little recognition on the West Coast. However, that’s not what he and his team look at.
“Everyone likes a pat on the back; it feels good. Obviously, it isn’t the main reason why they do it,” Jones said. “They do it to challenge themselves, test themselves. They have a purpose in their lives and why they wrestle, to make themselves better people and to grow as human beings, and challenge themselves and struggle.”
Despite getting recognition for battling with injuries against Penn State, Teemer and Norfleet are ready to move on.
Teemer is done resting — he wants action. He’s ready to overthrow the 157-pound class.
“I’m not planning on resting anymore. I need matches,” Teemer said. “I feel good and I still got a couple more weeks to prepare, so you will see me in Vegas.”
Norfleet, on the other hand, is back and ready to finish the job in March.
“Don’t sleep — I’m back,” Norfleet said.
Nick Zeller-Singh is a student at Arizona State studying Sports Journalism. In addition to writing for FloWrestling, he appears on his college radio station, does play-by-play, and covers a variety of sports as a beat writer. Follow him on Twitter.