When Penn State’s season officially began at the end of October, there were several question marks.
Who would replace Nick Suriano at 125 pounds? Could graduate transfer Corey Keener be a steady replacement at 133 pounds? Would Anthony Cassar finally don a Nittany Lions singlet?
All three of those questions were answered in Penn State’s 45-3 season-opening victory over Army West Point in front of a crowd of 6,320 inside Rec Hall on Thursday night.
Keener and Cassar were both impressive in their Nittany Lions’ debuts — a win for each of them.
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“Corey went out with the big headlock,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “We’ve been working on that all week. That was great to see. It was nice to see Cassar wrestle. It’s been a couple years. He looked good.”
Keener came out and was a little hesitant to start. He methodically felt out the Black Knights’ Lane Peters. Then, he found his opening and threw that aforementioned headlock for the fall with 10 seconds left in the first period.
But he felt he could’ve done more.
“I guess going out with a fall was pretty nice,” Keener said, “but I think I could have opened up a little more and tried to score more points early in the first period. It was nice to get that reaction from the crowd. It was a good feeling.”
Cassar — who beat out last year’s starter at 197 pounds, Matt McCutcheon, to earn the start — was making his debut not only for Penn State but also on the wrestling mat for the first time in over two years. He had been fighting with shoulder injuries the past two seasons and never made it on to the mat competitively.
He didn’t get his first takedown until 35 seconds were left in the first period. But, once he shook off the rust and found himself, there was no stopping him. In the second period he used an escape and takedown to lead 5-1 after two periods. In the final period, he kept pressuring and even picked up a takedown just before the buzzer for a 10-3 victory over Rocco Caywood.
“It was more excitement,” Cassar said, when asked if he was nervous. “When I got out there, I definitely felt it a little bit. It’s been so long — hard training and getting ready for competition, I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. I definitely have a lot to work on. I want to open up and believe in my offense more. It felt good being out there for the first time.”
Devin Schnupp had the task of taking over the empty 125-pound spot, but his debut wasn’t as successful.
He gave up a first-period takedown but quickly escaped to make it 2-1 entering the second period. The bout was tied 2-2 early, but another takedown from Army’s Trey Chalifoux had Schnupp in a hole again. In the third period, Schnupp was able to collect his lone takedown — but it was too late in the 6-4 loss to start the dual for Penn State.
“I think Schnupp just needs some experience,” Sanderson said. “He’s got to know that he can win. He’s got some nice shots. He’s got to finish some shots. He’s got some things he can work on. I think more anything, it’s just him knowing that he’s good, because he is.”
Jered Cortez also made a debut of sorts for the Nittany Lions. He was back on the mat for the first time since suffering an injury last year. He looked solid at the weight change up to 141 pounds: He used five takedowns to score a 12-6 victory.
One question that was needing answered for Penn State this season was what it would get from its “Murderers’ Row” from 149- to 184-pound wrestlers. Each of those defending national champions tallied bonus-point victories — like they did most of last year.
Zain Retherford scored 14 points and had 2:27 in riding time — and that was just the first period. He won by a 17-1 technical fall in 4:13. Jason Nolf followed at 157 pounds with a pin in 1:07. The Nittany Lions led 20-3 at the break and cruised from there.
Vincenzo Joseph racked up seven takedowns en route to a 17-7 major decision at 165 pounds. Mark Hall hit his infamous cement mixer early in the second period for a fall in 4:09. Bo Nickal followed up Hall’s mixer with a mixer of his own but in 26 seconds.
Nick Nevills finished off the dual with the fifth pin of the evening in 6:10. He led 11-8 before locking up a cradle for the win.
“We’re just happy to be rolling,” Sanderson said. “We’re happy to get out there and see where we’re at, what we can work on, where we can improve. It’s going to be a great year. I think Army, all of their kids are tough kids. They all fight hard, hand-fight hard, and they’re coached very well. It was a fun match. We’re happy, more than anything, to get started.”
No. 1 Penn State 45
Army West Point 3
(Thursday at University Park)
125: Trey Chalifoux, AWP, dec. Devin Schnupp, 6-4
133: No. 15 Corey Keener, PSU, pinned Lane Peters, 2:50
141: Jered Cortez, PSU, dec. Austin Harry, 12-6
149: No. 1 Zain Retherford, PSU, tech. fall Knox Fuller, 17-1 (4:13)
157: No. 1 Jason Nolf, PSU, pinned Lucas Weiland, 1:53
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, major dec. Andrew Mendel, 17-7
174: No. 2 Mark Hall, PSU, pinned No. 19 Ben Harvey, 4:09
184: No. 1 Bo Nickal, PSU, pinned Noah Stewart, :26
197: Anthony Cassar, PSU, dec. Rocco Caywood, 10-3
285: No. 3 Nick Nevills, PSU, pinned Bobby Heald, 6:10
Takedowns: AWP 4, PSU 34
Records: Army West Point 0-1, Penn State 1-0
Next match: Bucknell at Penn State, 2 p.m. Sunday