UNIVERSITY PARK — Last Friday Mark Manning kicked back, flipped on his TV and tuned in to the Penn State wrestling team’s dual against Wisconsin.
A few things stuck out, notably the lack of Andrew and Dylan Alton for Penn State. Second, the final score — Penn State 36, Wisconsin 6.
“I know the Alton boys weren’t even wrestling and I thought that might be one of the best teams I’ve seen in the last 15 years. They’re really good.”
Manning and his No. 13 Cornhuskers (9-3, 3-2 Big Ten) will have a chance to see the No. 1 Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) up close and personal when Nebraska faces Penn State in a sold-out Rec Hall on Sunday.
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The dual against Nebraska will be the last home action for Penn State until the Nittany Lions return home to face Rider on Feb. 17. It’ll also serve as Penn State’s biggest challenge yet, as the Cornhuskers enter with a three-dual winning streak and should send five highly-ranked wrestlers into action.
“You go through their lineup and they’ve got a good team. We’ve got to wrestle well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “There’s some key matchups in there. 157 is a big matchup for our guy and they’re tough at 149 and at 141, that kid was a qualifier last year. Their 174 pounder has only lost one match this year. 165 is tough. 184 is an All-American, I believe.”
Although they are eligible to return to dual-meet competition after their one-month suspension was lifted earlier this week, Andrew and Dylan Alton are not guaranteed to wrestle at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively. Instead, Penn State will weigh in James English at 149 and James Vollrath at 157. The Altons will also weigh in and will be a match-time decision.
Either way, bouts at 149, 157 and 174 will feature tough Nebraska wrestlers. No. 12 Jake Sueflohn is expected to wrestle at 149 while No. 4 James Green will step on the mat at 157. No. 4 Robert Kokesh will battle Penn State’s No. 3 Matt Brown at 174.
“There are going to be some real good matchups and it’s a great opportunity for us and some big moments here that I’m excited for our guys to see them compete,” Sanderson said.
The Cornhuskers, who dealt with injuries to a handful of wrestlers earlier in the season during a 5-3 dual-meet stretch, have gotten healthy and have reeled off wins against three Big Ten foes in the last month.
Nebraska edged No. 18 Michigan 20-19 on Jan. 11 before beating No. 23 Northwestern 25-12 the next night. Last week the Cornhuskers upset No. 6 Illinois 18-15. Manning is hoping momentum will propel his wrestlers in a building that figures to be loud and boisterous.
“I think it’s all how our guys react to the environment and how they wrestle,” Manning said. “We’ve been wrestling pretty well but they haven’t been No. 1-ranked teams. We’ll see how we do and how we compete.”
Nebraska is expected to send Eric Coufal (125), Shawn Nagel (133), No. 19 Ridge Kiley (141), either Tyler Koehn or Austin Wilson at 165, No. 8 Josh Ihnen (184), Caleb Kolb (197) and Spencer Johnson (285) into action. Penn State’s lineup will feature No. 2 Nico Megaludis (125), Jordan Conaway (133), Bryan Pearsall (141), No. 2 David Taylor (165), No. 1 Ed Ruth (184), No. 3 Quentin Wright (197) and No. 17 Jon Gingrich (285).