UNIVERSITY PARK — Neither Jon Gingrich nor Jimmy Lawson are worried about which of the two Penn State wrestlers will make the first start of the season at heavyweight this weekend.
Truth is, both Gingrich, a sophomore from Wingate, and Lawson, a sophomore transfer from Monmouth where he played defensive tackle the last two seasons, will each get the chance to make a dual meet start.
The defending national champions will host Lehigh at Rec Hall on Friday before traveling to Morgantown to face West Virginia on Sunday.
“We’re going to give them both a chance here,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I’m not going to say who’s wrestling when, but they’ll both wrestle a dual.”
Sanderson initially wanted Gingrich and Lawson to battle for the spot with a third head-to-head match last week — the duo is 1-1 so far. He had plans for both to enter last weekend’s Binghamton Open, but Lawson had to spend a few days off the mat to deal with a non-injury, non-disciplinary issue that has cleared up.
In the meantime, Gingrich hammered all comers in New York, posting a 4-0 record en route to his first open tournament win of the season.
“I wanted to prove to myself what kind of shape I’m in,” Gingrich said. “I really felt like I could tire out the other heavyweights when I was wrestling and that was my main focus, pushing and pulling.”
Gingrich outscored his four foes 23-2 and won by major decision over Lock Haven’s Harry Turner in the finale.
“Gingrich, great performance winning a tournament like that,” Sanderson said. “He won tournaments last year, so it’s not a big surprise. He’s very good and he can score a lot of points. He’s a lot stronger and bigger than he was last year, which is very good.”
Behind former heavyweight starter Cameron Wade, Gingrich began building momentum last season as a redshirt freshman. He won the East Stroudsburg Open and Laker Open at Mercyhurst in back-to-back weekends to start what would be a 21-4 season.
In the offseason this year, Gingrich took up hard, physical labor working for a local landscaping company.
Gingrich estimated he put in 50 to 60 hour work weeks for a majority of the summer, using heavy equipment and moving around large loads of dirt or mulch. The hard work paid off as Gingrich checked in at a chiseled 250 pounds when wrestling practice began this preseason.
Sanderson, who said it feels like Gingrich is “made of iron”, doesn’t look forward to sparring with the former Bald Eagle Area High School standout.
“Yeah, he’s not a guy I look for everyday in the room to wrestle with because he’s just a little bit too strong for me,” Sanderson said. “But I end up wrestling him every day because he looks for me.”
In addition, Gingrich has worked with Lawson, recent Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner and the rest of the team’s heavyweights so far this season.
Lawson, who said he wants to build on the reputation he earned as a high-schooler in New Jersey as a “dynamic” wrestler who can attack and score from any position, has helped Gingrich realize more of his own offensive potential.
“He really makes me focus on shooting and finishing,” Gingrich said of Lawson. “He’s so good defensively and so good at counter attacking that it’s really helped me realize that if I don’t finish against a good heavyweight, keep my head down, I’m not going to score.”
Lawson has used his limited bouts to gauge his own conditioning after being away from wrestling for the past few years. His return could come as early as Friday, however, depending on who Sanderson wants to use first.
It will be one or the other, but Lawson has a history with Lehigh heavyweight Jake Delia. Lawson pinned Delia in 43 seconds to win his final state championship as a senior at Manchester High School.
“I don’t know who Coach is going to pick,” Lawson said. “Like I’ve said before, either of us is great for the job. We work with each other every day so we’re both battle-tested. I think we can go a long ways, either one of us.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @ traviswjohnson_.