UNIVERSITY PARK — Jimmy Lawson is midway through his quest to realize his potential.
After his first season for Penn State ended quickly and in disappointment at March’s NCAA tournament, Lawson has reinvented himself. He’s examined a bunch of his heavyweight contemporaries and spent plenty of time honing his own conditioning and skills inside Penn State’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
Now, his greatest back-to-back test is upon him. Lawson will wrestle two marquee matches this weekend as No. 1 Penn State takes on No. 19 Indiana and No. 14 Northwestern on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Eighth-ranked Adam Chalfant awaits in Bloomington, where the Nittany Lions arrived on Thursday and will take on the Hoosiers (7-4, 0-3) at 7 p.m. Fourth-ranked 285-pounder Mike McMullan will travel with the rest of the Northwester Wildcats (6-2, 1-2) to Rec Hall for a 2 p.m. dual.
“For him, and most of our guys, when you get in the Big Ten you pretty much have good matches the whole time,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “He obviously has two Top 10 guys. But the Big Ten’s really talented at heavyweight. So any time you have big matches you want to make sure your guys are rested a little bit. He’s still a puppy as far as development, so we want to make sure he’s getting better but we definitely want to make sure he feels good going into those matches.”
Not only will those matches provide Lawson with early tune-ups for the Big Ten tournament, they’ll also give him a chance at redemption as he lost to both Chalfant and McMullan in last season’s Big Ten finale.
They’ll also provide him with an opportunity to show that last year was more of a fluke than reality. Lawson insists, what he’s been able to do so far this season with a full summer of conditioning behind him, is much closer to what he’s capable of.
After spending a few years away from the mat playing football at Monmouth University, Lawson spent all of last year struggling to catch up. Now he’s down to a lean 265 pounds from his football playing weight of 305 and he’s scoring points in bunches and late in matches.
“I definitely take pride in being a hustler,” Lawson said. “You have to go out on the mat and hustle. A lot of guys that you might wrestle might not like moving or all the moving around, they’re more like the traditional (heavyweights), wrestling sideways. You see all the heavyweights that are ranked high. They move around. They don’t really wrestle like heavyweights. They take shots, they get the guy moving an get him tired. You definitely take pride in that, just outworking the guy you’re wrestling.”
Lawson was on the other end of that strategy against Chalfant and McMullan in last season’s conference tournament. McMullan beat him 6-4 in the quarterfinals before Chalfant dropped Lawson to the seventh-place match with a 7-4 decision.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers and Wildcats are looking to establish some consistency. Indiana will likely send two other ranked grapplers into action with No. 5 Taylor Walsh handling duties at 157 and No. 18 Luke Sheridan wrestling at 184 pounds. Northwestern will be paced by No. 4 Jason Tsirtsis at 149, No. 9 Pierce Harger at 165, No. 9 Lee Munster at 174 and No. 17 Alex Polizzi at 197.
Penn State could be without the Altons, who may wrestle in Millersville’s Shorty Hitchcock Invitational in order to get more matches under their belts.
Zack Beitz (149) and James Vollrath (157) will wrestle in place of the Altons if they are unavailable Friday and Saturday.
For the Nittany Lions, Nico Megaludis (125), Jimmy Gulibon (133), Zain Retherford (141), David Taylor (165), Matt Brown (174), Ed Ruth (184) and Morgan McIntosh are all expected to wrestle.