“We aren’t trying to win right now. We are trying to improve.”
Those were the words Cael Sanderson said after No. 2 Penn State crushed No. 14 Stanford 36-6 on Sunday in the Nittany Lions’ home opener in Rec Hall. It also marked Sanderson’s 100th career win at the helm of Penn State.
If Penn State isn’t trying to win, they are doing a pretty job of improving.
The Nittany Lions, who shutout Army West Point 45-0 on Friday night, earned a 31-6 takedown advantage over the Cardinal.
“We’ve got to get our offense going,” Stanford coach Jason Borrelli said. “We were really flat. We didn’t put ourselves in a position to score. The close matches we didn’t have leg attacks.”
Most of the Cardinal’s offense came in the dual’s opening match at 165 pounds. The only other victory they earned was from No. 2 Joey McKenna over Jimmy Guilbon 6-2 at 141 pounds.
It wasn’t the usual 125 pounds that Sanderson and Nittany Lion fans have been accustomed to. For Sanderson, he looked at as a learning opportunity for Vincenzo Joseph, who fell to Keaton Subjeck 18-12. Subjeck led 15-5 after the first period but scored 12 of those points within the first 20 seconds of the match.
“The first (home) match of the year, I didn’t expect that,” Sanderson said. “It gave him (Joseph) a chance to battle back a little bit. ”
Geno Morelli followed and was able to quickly swing momentum in Penn State’s favor with an upset win over former All-American and No. 13 Jim Wilson.
After a scoreless first period, Morelli scored the first points of the match with a takedown and earned a stall point to lead 3-2. In the final period, he tacked on an escape and another takedown for the 6-3 win.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever wrestled (that early),” Morelli said. “You don’t think about it as much. I felt a lot more relaxed today. Anytime you can get the momentum rolling its good.”
It wouldn’t be the last upset on Sunday afternoon for the Nittany Lions.
Nick Nevills picked off No. 10 Nathan Butler 3-1 at 285 pounds. At the end of the third period, Nevills had to hang on for dear life to Butler’s leg in order to secure the win.
The biggest upset of the day was true freshman Nick Suriano topping No. 4 and returning All-American Connor Schram. Suriano’s win earned him the Ridge Riley award for a home dual’s top wrestler.
“Suriano does a good job of keeping distance,” Borrelli said. “It was hard to get through those jabs he was giving us. Huge credit to Penn State having a true freshman ready and ready for that level.”
Throughout the match, Suriano was outstretching his arm and tapping on Schram’s head. The pair went scoreless in the first period with Schram having a stall called against him. Suriano scored the first points of the match with an escape and had a stall point to lead 2-0 going to the final period.
In the third period, Suriano showed off strong riding skills. He amassed 1:53 of riding time in the two-minute period and came off the mat in his Rec Hall debut a 3-0 winner.
“He was a strong, big opponent,” Suriano said. “I felt him weaken in the third. I was going to keep him down there and not let him out. It was an awesome experience. The crowd was unbelievable like I expected. To represent Penn State here, its what I’ve dreamed of.”
Penn State also tallied four pins in the match.
Bo Nickal tallied the first one at 184 pounds, which broke open the dual. He registered eight takedowns before flipping Austin Flores over to his back for the fall in 6:21, and the Nittany Lions’ lead went to 9-3.
Jered Cortez followed Suriano’s upset with a pin in 2:40 over Peter Russo. Returning All-Americans Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf closed the dual out with back-to-back falls. Retherford picked up a first-period victory in 2:16 over Tommy Pawelski. Nolf racked up 10 takedowns while attempting to lock up a cradle. In the third period, he got the cradle locked up on Paul Fox and finished the match at 5:36.
Matt McCutcheon earned his second victory at the 197-pound weight class. The deciding move came when he hit an ankle pick with 1:36 remaining in the first period. He traded escapes with Josh Marchok but won 3-2.
“I thought it was a fun dual,” Sanderson said. “Overall, I think our team is wrestling well. I think we’ve got a pretty darn good team. We are excited about the future here.”