The upcoming weekend road trip will offer the No. 1 Penn State wrestling team not only chances to battle two of the better teams they’ll face all season, but also opportunities to spend time in similar environments where they’ll chase third consecutive Big Ten and NCAA championships in the postseason.
Penn State (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will travel to Iowa City to take on the No. 3 Hawkeyes (15-1, 5-0 Big Ten) on Friday and then head east for a dual against No. 6 Illinois (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) in Champaign, Ill. on Sunday.
The Illini will host the Big Ten tournament at Huff Hall from March 9-10 while the NCAA tournament will be held in Des Moines, Iowa, just under two hours from where the Hawkeyes call home, from March. 21-23.
“It’s going to be a similar atmosphere, not quite like (Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena), but the same area of the country,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “I’m glad that we get the chance to wrestle at Illinois. They have a really good team and some great individual matchups, but also getting in that arena and getting a feel for everything just because we’ll be back there in just over a month for the Big Ten championships.”
The weekend’s road slate will begin when Penn State leaves State College on Thursday afternoon. Sanderson said he would closely monitor his wrestlers and require workouts on an individual basis before leaving. Penn State will have a chance to workout in Iowa’s wrestling room Thursday evening.
The highly-anticipated dual with the Hawkeyes begins at 9 p.m. and will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.
“They care about big dual meets and that’s why it’s live on the Big Ten and that’s probably why it will be sold out or close to it I would guess,” Sanderson said. “Even for us, this is our first time in the Midwest so I’m sure we’ll have a few fans there coming in from Illinois and around Iowa. There might be one or two.”
As of Wednesday there were still over 1,500 tickets available for the dual inside the 15,400-seat Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With short breaks between each dual meet bout, Penn State wrestlers usually get their pulses pounding for a few quick seconds before hitting the mat for their matches.
Televised duals offer one quirk — TV timeouts the extended breaks they provide.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment just because you’re ready to go and you have to wait a couple of more minutes,” Redshirt freshman Jordan Conaway said. “But it’s not really that big of a deal. You just have to make sure you’re ready.”
Pearsall said each wrestler is notified before the television crew breaks to commercials shortly before certain matches, so they are prepared to keep their heart rates up if that is their preference.
As of Tuesday, Sanderson had no plans to use any guest speakers to pump up his squad for their its looming showdown with the Hawkeyes.
Not even former four-time All-American Frank Molinaro who won a national title with the Nittany Lions last season and was often outspoken when it came time to wrestling against Iowa.
“I think he’s pretty busy now but I know he stays in touch with all the guys,” Sanderson said of Molinaro who is an assistant coach with Rutgers (14-3, 6-1 EIWA). “These guys, they want to be the best. It doesn’t take a whole lot. We don’t need to hoot and holler. It’s just a matter of making sure they have a clear purpose.”
Molinaro, who recently tweeted a picture of himself deadlifting 535 pounds, has kept in touch with many of his former teammates via phone, text messages and social media.
“He’d just want us to go in there and pound them,” Penn State senior Bryan Pearsall said. “The easiest way to get their crowd to shut up is to put in on their guys. If we’re dominating them they won’t have much to talk about.”
Count Sanderson among those who are opposed to the use of replays to challenge an official’s call on the wrestling mat.
He hasn’t adopted that stance because he’s been denied on his last two challenges. Instead, Sanderson said the process slows the pace of a match and makes the sport more confusing to the casual observer.
“It’s just a tough thing for a ref to change their call in front of 6,500 people or something and I didn’t help that out by being obnoxious,” Sanderson said of his reaction to a call during Dylan Alton’s match. “I think the sport’s been great without it. I don’t think we need to keep adding rules to the sport because it already complicates an already complicated sport which is and should be simple.”