Although Penn State wrestling fans won’t know this year’s starting lineup until the Nittany Lions take the mat Thursday against Army West Point in Rec Hall, head coach Cael Sanderson did offer a few clues.
Junior Jered Cortez, who has a 6-2 overall record, will move up a weight class from last year to wrestle at 141 pounds, and true freshman Nick Lee (141) will likely redshirt, Sanderson told the media Thursday.
Cortez transferred to the Nittany Lions from Illinois after the 2014-15 season, sat out the next year due to Big Ten transfer rules, then missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.
“He’s back. He’s 100 percent healthy and has been for several months now,” Sanderson said. “Up at 141, he’ll have less risk of injury.”
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When asked what Lee would have to do to win that spot and have his redshirt pulled, Sanderson said he’d have to be the “clear-cut choice.”
“We’re never in any hurry to pull a redshirt,” Sanderson said. “It’s going to depend on who we feel has the best chance to score points there, and we feel confident that both of them have that ability.”
Lee, an Indiana state champion as well as both a junior and cadet freestyle world champion, went 68-1 in his high school career was ranked No. 5 overall in the 2017 recruiting class.
“He’s looking good in practice,” Sanderson added. “He wrestles hard, he’s improved by the day a great deal, he has a great attitude and is a fearless kind of guy. But he’s still a true freshman.”
Sanderson said the team has held one round of intrasquad matches last week and is set to hold another soon. But the process of determining who’s in the final starting lineup will continue throughout the week.
A new rule for the 2017-18 season
Fans will notice a slight rule change this year. During a neutral scramble, the referee will issue a danger signal to wrestlers who become stationary and expose their shoulders to the mat at any angle less than 90 degrees, according to the NCAA. That verbal announcement will be followed by a three-count. If the ref reaches the third count and the wrestler is still unable to get off his back, the opposing wrestler would be awarded a takedown.
“I don’t think our guys, generally speaking, scramble off their back. If they are, it’s kind of out of desperation,” Sanderson said. “But it does open up a lot of scoring opportunities when you’re trying to finish your shot. You don’t necessarily have to finish now as much as put your opponent on their back.”
The new rules also more closely align with scrambling rules in freestyle, which Sanderson said will be good for United States freestyle overall.
Hall, Nevills to compete in NWCA All-Star Classic
Wrestlers Mark Hall (174) and Nick Nevills (285) are set to compete Sunday in the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic in Princeton University’s Jadwin Gym.
The classic will feature a rematch of last season’s NCAA semifinal match between returning national champion Hall and third-place finisher Zahid Valencia, of Arizona State.
“I believe we are the last match,” Hall said Thursday. “You got to have fun. It’s not going to count toward anything, so I think that makes it even more of a reason for us to put it all on the line, have fun and wrestle.”
Nevills will face fellow returning All-American Tanner Hall, also of Arizona State.
For the first time in its 52-year history, this year’s All-Star Classic will also feature a full set of women’s bouts, which will be happening at the same time as the men’s bouts, in a two-mat format.
Sanderson said he supports his wrestlers participating in the event ahead of the regular season.
“It’s a cool event. It has a lot of history to it,” he said. “I don’t really push our guys either way. If our guys want to do it, we will support them.”
Sanderson, Ed Ruth catch up before Bellator 186
Sanderson on Thursday got to catch up with one of his first national champions, Ed Ruth, whom he called one of his “all-time favorite” wrestlers.
Ruth, now a mixed martial artist, is in State College this week, along with fellow Penn State national champion Phil Davis, for Bellator 186 at the Bryce Jordan Center Friday night.
“I saw him this morning making weight, and it was great to see him,” Sanderson said.
Ruth won three national championship for the Nittany Lions under Sanderson, then went on to wrestle freestyle for two years before embarking on a career in MMA.
“I was trying to get him to win a gold medal, then go do MMA,” Sanderson said. “Not a lot of wrestlers have the ability to win an Olympic gold medal, but I thought Ed did. But his drive and passion to get into MMA was very strong, and it’s going to be fun to follow him as he pursues his goal.”
Sanderson, who said he plans to attend the event Friday night, described Ruth and Davis as not only two of the best wrestlers in Penn State history, but also two of the most well-liked. “If they were to come back to a wrestling match,” he said, “they’d both be signing autographs for hours.”