Penn State coach Cael Sanderson acknowledged Wednesday that just two wrestlers are competing for this weekend’s open spot at 157 pounds.
Redshirt freshmen Luke Gardner and Bo Pipher.
“Both good kids,” Sanderson said. “Both fight hard, and they’re both in good shape — so we have two good options there.”
The opening comes as a result of Sunday’s injury to defending national champ Jason Nolf, who’s expected to miss the remaining duals before returning for the postseason. Sanderson said Nolf remains in good spirits and initially didn’t even want to come off the mat after going down against Rutgers.
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“He wanted to wrestle the match,” Sanderson added. “He was saying, ‘Let me choose top’ — and I was looking at him, like, ‘I don’t know if you’re serious, but we’re not going to wrestle you.’”
Nolf’s absence creates a bit of a dilemma for the Nittany Lions. Because Sanderson remains hopeful Nolf will return, the head coach said he isn’t willing to pull someone’s redshirt. So that means, almost by default, Gardner and Pipher are two candidates to take over at 157.
Gardner is 6-4 overall this season, while Pipher is 7-9.
Pipher won a wrestle-off earlier in the season to earn a spot over Gardner in the Southern Scuffle. Sanderson recalled that bout as a “close match” that “kind of came down to the end.”
Either way, Penn State’s wrestler at 157 pounds Saturday is going to have a challenge against No. 2 Ohio State. Micah Jordan is 19-3 this season and is ranked No. 5 in the nation in his weight class.
Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed has noticed a slight change in both Gardner and Pipher already.
“We’re very consistent with our training — but, I mean, there’s a little spark, you know?” he said. “They’re excited, but they’re training the same.”
Heavyweight trash talk
Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder, an Olympic gold medalist, tweeted Wednesday morning that all his time and energy this week will be focused on PSU — “There is no team I’d like to destroy more.”
His opponent, Penn State’s Nick Nevills, heard about the tweet around noon. His reaction?
“I mean, he can say what he wants,” Nevills said, smiling. “He’s won numerous accolades and has that kind of prerogative to talk that way. It doesn’t really make me go, ‘Oooh, now I want to beat you even more.’
“I have the same level of respect for him. He’d have to say something pretty off-handed for me to think differently of him. I have a lot of respect for him, but I also really want to go out there and wrestle as well as I can and compete and try to win the match.”
In their last meeting, exactly a year to the day on Feb. 3, 2017, Snyder got him on a major decision, 19-9, with eight takedowns.
Carson Kuhn debut?
Former Boise State wrestler Carson Kuhn officially transferred to Penn State in early January, but he still hasn’t wrestled for the Nittany Lions.
Kuhn has reportedly passed his hydration test, but Sanderson still wouldn’t say whether he would compete Saturday night against the Buckeyes at 125 pounds.
“Maybe,” Sanderson said. “Maybe you’ll see Kuhn there; maybe not.” He later added: “He’s close.”
If Kuhn can’t go against No. 4 Nathan Tomasello, Devin Schnupp — who is 1-14 this season — will continue to start.
Still no decision at 197
Anthony Cassar and Rasheed remain in the dark as to who’s going to start Saturday at 197 pounds — or who’ll be the starter moving forward.
“Got to prepare like I am,” Rasheed said.
Rasheed has been a magnet for bonus points, while Cassar has remained the epitome of consistency. Both are 15-2 on the season.
“We haven’t faced anyone like they’ll face on Saturday,” Sanderson said. “(Ohio State’s) Kollin Moore is a really tough kid and the No. 1 ranked kid in the country. But both of our guys are pretty darn good too. This’ll be their first chance to wrestle a top-ranked guy — so we’re looking forward to that.”