UNIVERSITY PARK — Matt Brown’s been around the world.
And as someone who’s flown countless hours and spent better parts of two years in unfamiliar countries — Brown lived in Angola and Mozambique before coming to Penn State — he doesn’t mind the monotony of travel. He looks forward to the return trips, too.
He and his Penn State wrestling teammates will travel to East Lansing, Mich., for a dual with the Michigan State Spartans on Friday before heading an hour south to face the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday.
“Believe it or not, I think you’re a little bit more focused because that’s all you have to worry about is wrestling, making weight and getting ready for matches,” Brown said. “On the way home, it’s more fun than on the way there because you have to make weight.”
The rest won’t likely be a problem for No. 1 Penn State, as Nittany Lion wrestlers have been dominant since the midpoint of the season. The Nittany Lions (11-0, 5-0) have won 34 of a possible 40 matches, and outscored Big Ten opponents 140-20 in four dual meets.
While Penn State has won the last three NCAA championships, the Nittany Lions have never gone unbeaten in the dual-meet season under coach Cael Sanderson.
Sanderson said recently it isn’t a goal his squad is focused on. For now, progression toward the looming Big Ten and NCAA tournaments will suffice.
Their opponents on Friday at 7 p.m. inside Jenison Field House haven’t posed much of a threat to them in nearly a decade. Penn State has an eight-dual winning streak against Michigan State, including a 41-0 shutout last season. The Spartans (5-8, 0-5) are mired in a five-dual losing slump.
Michigan State boasts one ranked wrestler, as No. 7 Mike McClure is one of the seven Big Ten heavyweights ranked in the Top 10 in the country.
Penn State’s Jimmy Lawson is ranked 12th, but is also out indefinitely with a knee injury. Penn State’s Jon Gingrich is not ranked, but he has plenty of experience and a personal history with McClure, whom Gingrich beat 5-3 in a dual meet last season.
With a second bout against a Top 10 opponent penciled in for Sunday — Michigan’s Adam Coon is No. 2 — Gingrich has a perfect opportunity to show he can compete against some of the country’s best.
“He’s got two of the toughest guys in the country this weekend, one of the guys he was able to defeat last year, so I think that’s really going to help his confidence going into it,” associate head coach Cody Sanderson said. “Right now he’s got a great opportunity to get on the national stage again. He’s got a great opportunity to get some wins and be ranked. So right now his destiny is in his own hands.”
The Spartans will likely send wrestlers with winning records to the mat in just half of the dual’s bouts.
A pair of juniors in John Rizquallah and Nick McDiarmid will try to test No. 2 Ed Ruth and No. 7 Morgan McIntosh at 184 and 197 pounds, respectively. Bobby Nash will wrestle No. 1 David Taylor at 165 while freshman Garth Yenter will await No. 16 Jimmy Gulibon at 133.
Penn State coaches are still waiting for Gulibon (11-9) to get his offense going. Three of Penn State’s six individual losses have come at 133 with Gulibon — a four-time PIAA champion at Derry Area — making those starts.
“When he’s attacking and scoring, that’s when he’s at his best,” Cody Sanderson said. “That’s what we need out of him. We need more attacks, more offense.”
The Nittany Lions are likely to see more of that in Ann Arbor where the Wolverines have wrestled well this season. Michigan (8-2, 4-0) has wins against No. 12 Oregon State, No. 20 Purdue and recently upended No. 2 Minnesota inside Cliff Keen Arena .
Michigan’s lineup consists of six ranked wrestlers, none as high as No. 2 Coon, and four freshman.
No. 13 Steve Dutton (141), No. 7 Eric Grajales (149), No. 14 Brian Murphy (157), No. 6 Dan Yates (165) and Coon (285) all picked up wins toward the Wolverines’ upset of the Golden Gophers on Jan. 19.
Cody Sanderson said he’s seen a lot of “passion” and “excitement” from Michigan wrestlers on film.
“I think as far as the lineup, the matchups are going to be fun,” Cody Sanderson said. “We’ve had some teams we’ve matched up with better and somewhat worse so I don’t think that there’s going to be any surprises as far as matchups go. It’s great. It’s refreshing to see a program really get that shot of enthusiasm.”
In addition to Gulibon, Taylor, Brown, Ruth, McIntosh and Gingrich, No. 2 Nico Megaludis (125), No. 2 Zain Retherford (141) and No. 4 Dylan Alton (157) are also expected to start both duals for Penn State. No. 15 Zack Beitz is expected to wrestle at 149 pounds.