For the Penn State wrestling team, road trips offer its members a chance to bond, experience different Big Ten towns and display their brand of dominant wrestling to foreign audiences.
The No. 1 Nittany Lions (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have wrestled an easy schedule thus far with five of their first six duals coming inside the friendly confines of Rec Hall. In addition to the Southern Scuffle, Penn State has made just one road trip thus far, and that was to nearby Morgantown, W.Va. to face a Moutaineers squad that was outmatched in a 44-3 thumping.
Now, with a nearly 550-mile trip to West Lafayette, Ind. under their belts, the Nittany Lions will face No. 22 Purdue in a dual that’ll be the first of six Penn State will wrestle on the road to close its regular season.
Sunday’s dual against the Boilermakers (10-4, 1-2 Big Ten) will conclude the first Friday-Sunday Big Ten matchup for Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions beat No. 19 Wisconsin 36-6 on Friday.
“We need to be ready for it and we need to be sure our team’s rested and ready to go,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They wrestle two times a weekend all the time so it’s not really that big of a deal for them but we also want to make sure we use the matches for our conditioning and make sure they feel good in the matches, that’s the best confidence boost we can do for them. A lot of the training really happens on game day in my opinion.”
Most of Penn State’s starters got a full match in against their Badger counterparts. Six bouts went the distance on Friday night while Jordan Conaway benefited from an extra period in his defeat of No. 3 Tyler Graff at 133 pounds. No wrestler on Penn State’s roster got as much conditioning in as 149-pounder James English who wrestled for 11 minutes in a grueling, multiple-overtime affair against Wisconsin’s Cole Schmitt.
“We call it the Big Ten grind because you’re wrestling somebody good in the Big Ten, Friday-Sunday, Friday-Sunday, like that and so it’s a really good part of the season,” Penn State senior Quentin Wright said.
The Boilermakers are coming off of back-to-back losses to No. 4 Iowa (Jan. 6) and No. 5 Illinois (Jan. 11). In those duals, Purdue wrestlers were often outmatched, winning just three bouts against the Hawkeyes in a 29-9 loss and three more against the Illini in a 29-10 defeat.
Camden Eppert and Ivan Lopouchanski won their bouts in both of those duals at 125 and 149 pounds, respectively while No. 17 Braden Atwood added a win against Iowa at 197 and Danny Sabatello beat his Illini foe at 133.
Eppert, ranked No. 17 will draw Penn State’s No. 2 Nico Megaludis who leads Penn State in takedowns while No. 13 Lopouchanski will face English.
“I know my Purdue kid is pretty tough,” Megaludis, who beat Eppert in their only meeting 4-1 for fifth place at last season’s Big Ten tournament, said.
Penn State will also send Conaway (133), Bryan Pearsall (141), James Vollrath (157), No. 2 David Taylor (165), No. 3 Matt Brown (174), No. 1 Ed Ruth (184), No. 3 Wright (197) and No. 16 Jon Gingrich (285) to the mat inside Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers are expected to send Brandon Nelson (141), Tommy Churchland (157), Pat Robinson (165), Chad Welch (174), Patrick Kissel (184) and Alex White (285) to the mat.