UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s been a difficult year to predict who the clear-cut favorite wrestler is to finally take sole possession of Penn State’s heavyweight starting spot.
And while there are still 22 days left before Penn State can send either Jon Gingrich or Jimmy Lawson to the scale for Big Ten Tournament weigh-ins, chances for each one to make his case are getting scarcer.
Penn State has just two dual remaining before the Nittany Lions will join their Big Ten foes in Champaign, Ill., for the conference tournament on March. 9. To this point, Lawson and Gingrich — both sophomores — have both showed glimpses of brilliance tinged with occasional mistakes.
“I think we hit a tough stretch there dual-meet wise, where we got a real good look at where we are and this gives us a couple of weeks to fine-tune our guys before we go into the good stuff,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.
But the battle between Lawson and Gingrich still remains. Although Sanderson said the two would not wrestle off again, he’s running short on evaluation periods.
Gingrich, a former Bald Eagle Area standout, is 14-6 on the season, including 4-3 in duals. He’s come into his own this season with signature wins against Top 10 heavyweights Adam Chalfant of Indiana and Michael McClure of Michigan State. Gingrich looked to have a stranglehold on the starting job when he edged Lawson in a midseason wrestle-off inside an empty Rec Hall, then added to his momentum with a thrilling 5-3 win over then-No. 4 McClure in early January.
Meanwhile, Lawson stepped in for Gingrich, when the latter got sick around the time of the Iowa dual. Deciding to give Gingrich time to recover following a grueling dual against the Hawkeyes, Penn State coached opted to use Lawson two days later against Illinois.
Since then, Penn State has wrestled two duals and has sent Lawson to the mat each time to mixed results. Lawson is 2-1 against Illinois, Pittsburgh and Ohio State, respectively, but that record is a bit skewed considering the frustrating weekend Lawson endured on the Lions’ recent road trip to Western Pennsylvania and Columbus.
He lost a 5-4 decision to Pittsburgh’s No. 8 Zac Thomusseit and stormed off the mat. Feeling he pushed the pace for much of the bout and was the aggressor in every position, Lawson slammed his headgear to the mat in frustration.
It cost the Nittany Lions a team point.
“I knew during the match I could see that he was a little bit tired,” Lawson said. “I was tired, too, but he wasn’t really on the offensive. It was just a couple things that were frustrating at the end of the match. I could’ve had an opportunity. I had the opportunities to take shots I just didn’t go for it as much as I should have.”
His second consecutive shot against a highly-ranked opponent was aborted early after Ohio State’s then-No. 12 Peter Capone forfeited with an injury against Lawson.
The former Monmouth football player took an early shot against Capone, and the Buckeye heavyweight countered. Lawson tried to roll through him and Capone came up favoring his shoulder.
He tried to continue, but eventually, Ohio State coach Tom Ryan pulled the plug.
“It happens. It’s just nothing I can help. He got hurt,” Lawson said. “Hopefully he’s doing better, but I just went out there and wrestled tough.”
Neither had been terribly productive in the two big tournaments Penn State has wrestled in, either. While Lawson has 16 dual meet team points and two bonus-point tournament wins to his record, compared to Gingrich’s 12 dual meet points and one bonus point tournament win, Sanderson is still treating the heavyweight spot as too close to call.
Sanderson is still not sure which heavyweight will wrestle on Sunday at Rec Hall when the Lions host Rider. Both Gingrich and Lawson have traveled to nearly every away dual, and even while Gingrich was sick, Lawson was still warming up and planning on wrestling.
“Coach tell us both to be ready,” Lawson said.
They’ll continue to prepare as if each one is the starter even if Sanderson isn’t sure which one will get the not right down to weigh-ins.
“It’s just more of a decision we have to make as a staff,” Sanderson said.
he’ll be ready
In addition to Gingrich, Bryan Pearsall has missed the last two duals with a minor ailment.
He doubts it is anything too serious to keep him out of his final home dual inside Rec Hall on Sunday.
“I’ll be 100 percent by the weekend,” Pearsall, a senior, said.
It was senior Derek Reber stepping in for Pearsall at 141 pounds last weekend, while Pearsall nursed an unspecified injury that Penn State associate head coach Cody Sanderson called “minor.” But it didn’t make much sense for the coaching staff to send Pearsall out against No. 2-ranked Hunter Stieber on Sunday, considering Stieber’s prowess for pounding his opponents.
Cael Sanderson said keeping Pearsall out was preventative in order to let him fully heal as he attempts to earn his first career berth in the NCAA tournament.
“He just kind of had a weird injury that he just didn’t feel very good and to throw him out there,” Sanderson said, “You could jeopardize him and make something small turn into something big. And we didn’t want to do that.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @traviswjohnson_.