UNIVERSITY PARK — Theres a fine line between what it means for a wrestler to be hurt or injured.
Sure, Andrew and Dylan Alton have had their fair share of bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes and joints that have been twisted, stretched too far before.
But the past 10 months have been much different for the twin brothers. Torn labrums discovered after last seasons NCAA tournament and the resulting surgeries have forced the Altons to readjust their approach unlike theyve ever had to. Now, they may finally return to dual-meet action on Sunday when No. 1 Penn State (7-0, 1-0) hosts Purdue (3-2, 0-2) at Rec Hall.
Its tough mentally, Andrew said. Our teams there for us. And were just pushing it and working hard and getting back into shape. Im ready to be back in season mode right now.
Both brothers were on hand for Penn States freestyle practice with members of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club on Tuesday. Both said they hope to wrestle against the Boilermakers but ultimately will defer to the coaching staff.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson has been coy about the Altons impending return all season. They were cleared by team medical personnel to resume wrestling over a month ago and returned to action at the Wilkes Open on Dec. 28. Dylan competed at the Franklin and Marshall Open last week while Andrew sat out with an illness.
On Tuesday, Sanderson took the same cautious tone when asked if the Altons will wrestle this weekend.
We just want to make sure theyre ready to go, Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. Theres no rush. Were getting down to where theres going to be a rush soon but they both have had some matches and theyre getting better each match and theyre getting better each week. Theyre ready to go if its a must-compete type of situation.
While bounts with an up-and-down Purdue team the Boilermakers have just one ranked wrestler in their starting 10 aret must-wrestles, Penn State is at the halfway point of its season with nine duals left before the postseason tournaments begin.
So far, the Altons have wrestled a combined nine bouts. All three of Andrews matches came at the Wilkes Open where he won three matches before bowing out of the 149-pound bracket on a planned medical forfeit. Meanwhile, Dylan exited the 157-pound field in the same manner after a 2-0 start. Dylan followed with a 4-0 run at the F&M Open last week before taking another planned medical forfeit.
For the brothers, learning to be patient through their rehab has been tricky. Taking it easy has taken some getting used to, especially over the last month since theyve been cleared to wrestle, Dylan said.
I wanted to get back as soon as possible but the coaches pulled us back, Dylan said. They know everything, what to do and what not to do and whats the best for us. How are we going to be the best in March and be where we want to be?
I always wanted to go, go, go. If it hurt a little bit, my mindset (was), I wanted to compete as soon as possible. I only have two more years left at this and time flies. I didnt want to waste any time. But the more you think about it youve got to see, you have to be the best person in March.
While both Altons are two-time NCAA tournament qualifiers, only Dylan has achieved All-America status. Last season both wrestlers were bounced from their championship brackets to bring their seasons to an end.
Like this season, both Altons missed extended time last season. Andrew nursed an ankle injury for the first month of the season that caused the coaching staff to hold him out of early duals. The brothers were then suspended for a month midway through the season for violating team rules.
Now, theyre determined to finish their junior years strongly in the wake of a first-half absence.
Sanderson is convinced the Altons can do it and hes seen them adjust their training accordingly and pick up a few new tricks while unable to use their old ones over the past few months.
Both Altons have made careers on their explosive moves and upper-body strength. These traits have caused Sanderson and the teams medical staff to be more cautious and prevent the brothers from over-doing it since theyve been back on the practice mats.
It makes you a student of the game when you dont have all the tools that you always have had, Sanderson said. Thats good for them.
While taking it easy on his surgically-repaired shoulder, Andrew worked on counters and added a few variations on his tie-ups. Meanwhile, Dylan has cleaned up his overshots or overextensions that previously left him vulnerable not only to counters but to further shoulder injuries.
Both wrestlers feel like theyve made big strides in the mental game, too.
A lot more patience, Andrew said. Thats what wins matches. Everything basic.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.