UNIVERSITY PARK — The college wrestling season is already over a month old and the majority of Penn State’s starters only have two matches against outside competition under their belts.
That’ll change today.
The No. 2 Nittany Lions will welcome nearly 500 wrestlers from 36 different schools to Rec Hall for today’s Nittany Lion Open. Penn State is expected to send 33 of its 35 wrestlers to the mats.
“It’s our first open for the majority of our starters. We want to wrestle. We want to get on the mat and compete,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “We’ve been training for a long time. We’ve had two matches. It’s time to go.”
Among a field of entrants that won’t be finalized until after this morning’s early weigh-ins, Penn State wrestlers will likely be favored in the majority of their weight classes. The Nittany Lions return four wrestlers who won NLO titles last season in Nico Megaludis (125), David Taylor (165), Ed Ruth (174) and Quentin Wright (184). Ruth and Wright will try to repeat as champions at different weights today, as Ruth has bumped up to 184 and Wright to 197 for this season.
Penn State sophomore Andrew Alton is expected to make his 2012 debut at 149 pounds after sitting out the first month of the season rehabbing an ankle injury.
Of the eight returning All-Americans from last season’s NCAA tournament expected to wrestle today, five — Megaludis, Dylan Alton, Taylor, Ruth and Wright — will be wearing Penn State singlets. Expected to join them are Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter, a junior 141-pounder who is redshirting for the Hokies this season, N.C. State’s Nick Gwiazdowski a sophomore heavyweight and Maryland’s vaunted 174-pound senior, Josh Asper.
“It is a good gauge for us and there’s good competition,” Sanderson said. “There’s always good individuals in each weight so it’s a good test for our guys.”
Twelve of the nation’s top 25 teams as ranked by the USA Today/NWCA/AWN Division I Coaches Poll will send wrestlers into action. In total, 88 attached wrestlers from ranked teams are expected to wrestle.
With large brackets, it is not out of the question that Penn State wrestlers could get in six bouts by the end of the evening.
“I knew it was going to be a grind but it really was a grind,” Megaludis said of last season’s NLO. “I had a pigtail match and that was probably my toughest match. I had six matches that lasted a full seven minutes, so that’s what a full 42 minutes of wrestling. That’s a lot.”
As the tournament’s hosts, Penn State wrestlers are working ahead of time to help with preparations for the tournament.
“It’s hard to sleep the night before, you only get a couple of hours because we’re (laying out mats), and then you’ve got to wake up at 5:30. It’s a long day,” Megaludis said.
It’ll provide Sanderson and his coaching staff plenty of looks at both heavyweights Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich, who are battling for the starting spot at heavyweight.
“It’s definitely good to get a lot of matches in. I’ve been out for two years, so we’ve got a lot of big tournaments coming up and it’s good to get that extra work in especially with the Nittany Lion Open coming up,” said Lawson, who spend the last two years playing football at Monmouth University.
Both Lawson and Gingrich have each won an open tournament already this season. Lawson won the Mat-Town Open at Lock Haven last weekend and Gingrich won the heavyweight crown at the Binghamton Open on Nov. 11.
“This will be a big weekend for him and for Gingrich,” Sanderson said. “They’ll both be in the same bracket and it’s going to be a tough tournament and this gives us a better idea of where they are.”