UNIVERSITY PARK — Over the last month a pair of Jameses has filled in admirably for a pair of Altons.
As Andrew and Dylan Alton were suspended after violations of Penn State wrestling team rules, James English and James Vollrath stepped up to steady the No. 1 Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0) at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively.
The Altons’ suspensions were lifted on Tuesday and each is eligible to return to the dual meet lineup in time for a Sunday dual against No. 13 Nebraska at Rec Hall. Both Altons worked out before the team’s regular practice session on Tuesday and were not available to reporters.
While the Altons — both big point-getters, evidenced by their combined 18 pins, two technical falls and four major decisions — figure to return to the Penn State lineup eventually, English, Vollrath and the Penn State coaching staff are unsure when that’ll happen.
“We’re working through that now. We want to make something that’s fair for everybody,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly what we’re doing on that so I don’t want to say too much.”
In the meantime, English and Vollrath are preparing as if they will start when the Cornhuskers (9-3, 3-2 Big Ten) come to Rec Hall.
They’ve had ample time to hone their skills in meaningful competition. Vollrath, who leads all Penn State wrestlers with 23 wins, capped an impressive Southern Scuffle tournament with a runner-up finish after losing to then-No. 14 Jedd Moore in sudden victory in the finals.
Vollrath has added three decision wins against Big Ten foes since, including a 6-4 win over No. 19 David Cheza of Michigan State. If he steps on the mat against Nebraska, Vollrath with likely face the best opponent he’ll see all season in Nebraska’s No. 4 James Green.
“If I do get to go for us Sunday, I would love to compete because the guy is the No. 4 guy in my weight, so I would love to see where I’m at, where I stand,” Vollrath said. “I know I can take him. Nebraska’s good, but our team’s a beast, so I think we’ll have them pretty covered.”
English, a fifth-year senior who has battled injuries throughout his career, has made the most of his starts this season, too. He finished third at 149 at the Scuffle, going 6-1 and battling back in the consolation bracket to defeat Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt in his final bout. Since then, English has hit a bit of a snag, going 1-2 in Penn State’s last three duals.
He lost an energy-sapping, 11-period affair to Wisconsin’s Cole Schmitt before dropping a 5-2 decision to No. 13 Ivan Lopouchanski of Purdue last weekend.
“I’ve watched my film already and I’m ready to learn from my mistakes and move forward,” English said. “I’m just going to keep coming into practice and working hard every day and I’m ready to go Sunday.”
Meanwhile, the Altons racked up wins against lesser opponents in two open tournaments. Both won titles in the Franklin and Marshall Open and more recently in the Floyd ‘Shorty’ Hitchcock Memorial Tournament. Each went 9-0 combined in those tournaments.
“Really, what we’re looking for is a long-term commitment. That’s what my agreement with them is,” Sanderson said. “That’s going to take two and a half years before we know whether that goes all the way through. I’m happy with the decisions that they’ve made. But it’s also during the season. We’ll find out. It’s just making better decisions every time, when the season’s not in, when it’s a weekend, when it’s Christmas break, whenever.”
Jordan Conaway’s phone lit up consistently and messages on social media sites came pouring in after a stunning weekend that saw the redshirt-freshman upend the No. 3 133-pounder in the country and turn in his third bonus-point win in a dual this season.
“It was crazy, having all that support was awesome,” Conaway said.
Conaway’s come-from-behind win over Wisconsin’s then-No. 3 Tyler Graff wasn’t enough to propel Conaway into the InterMat individual rankings, however.
It was enough to drop Graff to No. 5. Conaway said he isn’t too concerned about rankings and never has been one to look into that sort of thing.
“I know when a guy is usually ranked or (have) a general idea, but I don’t really check it or keep up with it,” He said.
He’ll have multiple chances to better his national stock as the former walk-on who earned a scholarship earlier this season as four of his next five projected opponents are ranked in the Top 20 at 133. That slate includes chance to wrestle No. 1 Logan Stieber of Ohio State and No. 2 Tony Ramos of Iowa in their buildings.
Reserve heavyweight Nick Ruggear went 4-1 at the ‘Shorty’ Hitchcock Tournament over the weekend and met teammate Jimmy Lawson in the finals.
Lawson won the title after Ruggear was injured late in the match. On Tuesday Sanderson revealed Ruggear sprained an ankle and could miss some time as he recovers.
Ruggear is 6-3 on the season.
Illinois time set
Penn State’s dual at No. 6 Illinois on February 3 has been set for 2 p.m.
The Nittany Lions have plenty of reasons to be wary of the Illini (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten). Although Illinois lost its last two Big Ten duals, 18-15 to Nebraska on Jan. 18 and 18-14 to Minnesota on Monday, the Illini pushed the No. 3 Gophers to the brink, winning four of the first six bouts before the Gophers closed out the dual with four wins.
Sanderson caught up with the match on Twitter.
“It was a good match. It came down to the end,” Sanderson said. “Illinois has a good team. Minnesota obviously has a good team.”