UNIVERSITY PARK — If you listen to Cael Sanderson and John Smith tell it, this is the way it should be — two of the country’s top wrestling programs going head-to-head in a soldout venue late in the season.
Get used to it.
A dual between the No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-4) and the No. 2 Nittany Lions (13-1) at 2 p.m. in Rec Hall on Sunday will reignite a regular-season rivalry that will likely keep burning for seasons to come if both coaches get their way. Of course, the two teams are quite familiar with each other. They battled for the NCAA team title last season — the Cowboys finished second to the Nittany Lions — and Penn State edged Oklahoma State in another one-two finish in January’s Southern Scuffle.
Now they’ll finally meet — all 20 wrestlers on one mat — head-to-head for the first time since 2007.
“I think it’s important that Penn State and OSU wrestle,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. “We wrestled for years early on in my career and it wasn’t my choice to stop that. So we’re happy to have Penn State on the schedule and Oklahoma State and Penn State should be wrestling. If not every year, then definitely every other year.”
Sanderson confirmed that the Nittany Lions will trek to Stillwater, Okla. next season for a dual and Smith said that is the plan, too.
But first, Penn State will try to keep from losing back-to-back duals for the first time since 2010. The Nittany Lions are coming off a defeat to No. 1 Minnesota while Oklahoma State hammered Clarion 45-0 on Saturday.
“Obviously their history, they’ve won 34 national championships,” Sanderson said. “Over the course of the history of college wrestling, they’ve been as dominant as probably any team in any sport.”
In addition, the Cowboys have earned 136 individual championships. The most recent being 174-pounder No. 2 Chris Perry.
Perry beat Penn State’s No. 4 Matt Brown last season 2-1 in overtime. A second loss to Perry at the Scuffle — this one by 4-0 decision — has Brown itching to get back on the mat against his Cowboy counterpart.
“There’s little things I’ve picked up (from wrestling Perry),” Brown said. “Obviously he’s a great competitor so it will be fun to go after it again.”
At NCAAs, Brown and Perry dualed in a defensive showdown. Then, Perry gained the upper hand in a first 30-second overtime period when he rode Brown out. Brown had a shot to equal Perry’s ride but the Oklahoma State grappler escaped to a 2-1 lead with 28 seconds left and went on the offensive, neutralizing Brown’s own offense to win his first national title.
At the Scuffle, Perry was able to tilt Brown and notched a 4-0 win. He’ll have to beat Brown a third time in what’s been a rugged schedule for him.
So far Perry has wrestled eight bouts against wrestlers ranked in the Top 10 at his weight. His only loss came to No. 1 Andrew Howe of Oklahoma.
“Chris Perry’s been in a lot of battles this year,” Smith said. “It’s been one of those years that everyone we’ve dueled (174)’s been probably the best guy on their team. It always seems to work that way for one of the athletes on your team and it’s been Perry this year.”
Meanwhile, Brown is coming off an 8-4 loss to Minnesota’s Logan Storley. Always tweaking his technique, Brown said he was trying a few new things in the Southern Scuffle matchup with Perry. He said he has no plans to simplify his approach this time around.
Instead, Sanderson said he’s instructed Brown to be more cautious and mindful of what happened in previous bouts with Perry.
“Matt’s got to figure out how to score points and I think he’s got to get a takedown, obviously,” Sanderson said. “Perry’s very good on the mat and when push comes to shove he’s going to be very tough to get him off your back when he’s riding you. He can’t be waiting around. And this will be a great opportunity for him to see him another time before the nationals and see him at home. What better opportunity could you want than that?”
The match at 174 also provides Rec Hall spectators with a unique opportunity.
It will be the second time this season Penn State fans will see a rematch of one of last season’s NCAA title bouts. Nico Megaludis beat Jesse Delgado earlier this season inside Rec Hall in a rematch of the 125-pound finale.
Brown/Perry isn’t the only potential bout with luster to it.
All-in-all the two squads will combine to send 17 ranked wrestlers to the mat, including 12 in the Top 10s at their respective weights. That could jump to 18 if Oklahoma State’s Blake Rosholt, ranked No. 16 at 197, returns from injury. Rosholt did not wrestle against Clarion but Smith said he could be ready to go by Sunday.
While the battle between the two programs has been limited to tournament mats over the last few years — Penn State and Oklahoma State last met in a dual in 2007 — it has continued in the recruiting realm.
The Cowboys will send ninth-ranked 149-pounder Josh Kindig, a two-time PIAA champion for Blue Mountain, to face No. 17 Zack Beitz. Kindig is the lone Pennsylvania wrestler in Oklahoma State’s lineup but the Cowboys, who also have former Hempfield standout Austin Miller on their roster, have been able to lure top Pennsylvania talent to Stillwater over the last few years.
Coleman Scott (Waynesburg Central) and Jordan Oliver (Easton) combined to win four WPIAL and three PIAA titles in high school and combined for three NCAA titles and eight All-America seasons for Smith. Recently, Kennard-Dale’s Chance Marsteller — the country’s top recruit at any weight — decommitted from Penn State and chose Oklahoma State.
“Anytime we can get a kid in (Oklahoma), that’s where we’ll look first,” Smith said. “Pennsylvania, if the opportunity presents itself, it’s a weight class we need and we see a kid out there that’s a good fit for us, we’re going to be trying to get him. I wouldn’t mind trying to get one kid a year out of Pennsylvania if I could.”
Sanderson and Smith are both all for continuing to pit their teams against one another. The opportunity presented itself for them to schedule this dual and they took it.
They’re looking forward to continuing to do so.
“I think the match sold out in a matter of minutes so that kind of gives you an idea of the respect and the interest in the matchup,” Sanderson said. “It’s a big dual. A lot of times with our schedule we see the same teams every year. They’re big schools and big rivalries but it’s the Lehighs and the Minnesotas and the Iowas and the Ohio States but you get another one of the top schools in here and it’s fun. It’s a little change.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson for LIVE updates from Rec Hall.