Penn State Wrestling

Lineup changes abound for defending NCAA champions

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson talks to the media about the upcoming season on Wednesday at Rec Hall.
Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson talks to the media about the upcoming season on Wednesday at Rec Hall.

Rumors have been swirling.

Penn State fans have numerous questions: Who is going to replace program staples Morgan McIntosh, Nico Megaludis and Jordan Conaway? Will they get to see Mark Hall wrestle in the Nittany Lion singlet? Are Bo Nickal and Shakur Rasheed really changing weight classes?

All of those questions were answered by Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson during media day on Wednesday at Rec Hall.

Penn State will have the usual names in the lineup: Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157) and Nick Nevills (285). So what about the other seven weights?

“We are still in the process of establishing our team,” Sanderson said of the potential starting lineup. “I know a lot of programs do that earlier. We don’t.”

As expected, true freshman Nick Suriano will fill the void left behind by Megaludis. Suriano had a high school record of 159-0 en route to four New Jersey state titles. Sanderson said if he could describe the young grappler with one word, it would be “intense.”

“He is on point all the time and very consistent,” Sanderson said. “You have to watch him real closely and tell him, ‘Alright, Nick, that’s enough time, go home.’ Then you have to make sure that he doesn’t come back. He is very committed and focused. He doesn’t get tired. He’ll wrestle all day.”

Unlike most programs, Sanderson has always started out at 125 pounds in home dual meets over the past several years. He felt comfortable letting Megaludis hit the mat first and give the team an initial spark to get the match underway. It sounds like Sanderson feels that same way about Suriano.

“It’s that consistency and toughness,” Sanderson said. “That’s what you want in a lead-off guy. A guy that’s going to win tough matches. A guy that’s the same every time whether we are at Rec Hall, on the road, the Big Ten (tournament) or the national tournament. Nick Suriano is going to be Nick Suriano and that’s what we love about him.”

Illinois transfer Jered Cortez, who had to sit out last year, looks to be the starter at 133 pounds. Who follows Cortez is the next question. As it stands for right now at 141 pounds, it’s Jimmy Gulibon’s spot to lose.

“Gulibon has the advantage there,” Sanderson said, “but there is certainly a few different guys trying to challenge him for that spot. That’s healthy for our program. It will work itself out.”

Gulibon didn’t have quite the season everyone had hoped for after placing fifth at 133 pounds in 2015. He finished 14-11. He showed some brilliance as a runner-up in the Big Ten tournament. He carried the momentum into the NCAA tournament by technical falling No. 5 seed Matt Manley, of Missouri, 17-2. He didn’t place but there were a lot of expectations after a successful 2014 season.

Another new face will enter the lineup at 165 pounds. Vincenzo Joseph is leading the way at 165 pounds. The next three weight classes are up in the air.

“(1)74 is a little more competitive,” Sanderson said. “We have the usual suspects that are just up a weight class now: Geno Morelli, who won two matches at nationals last year; Shakur Rasheed, who really did some amazing things but just was in the wrong weight class last year. We still don’t know what he is capable of. We also have Mark Hall in the mix there.”

Yes, you read that right, Mark Hall. Hall, who is a six-time Minnesota state champion, was the No. 1 recruit in the country last year. It’s been speculated that he would redshirt this year. It is still the plan to have Hall redshirt, but according to Sanderson, you can’t count anything out.

“You can’t just completely take anything off the table ever,” Sanderson said. “Until the Big Ten tournament starts, we are trying to put our best team out there. But that’s not the plan right now.”

It is true, Nickal is moving up a weight class. He will compete against Matt McCutcheon for the spot at 184 pounds. As far as McIntosh’s replacement at 197 pounds, its a toss up for now.

Kellen Stout is leading the way right now. Don’t be surprised to see McCutcheon up there if he is beaten out for the 184 spot. An outlier is Anthony Cassar. Cassar has been recovering from a shoulder injury that he suffered this summer.

“Cassar has had a lot of success,” Sanderson said. “He’ll be very competitive at that weight class. He’s been cleared to drill but he’s still a ways away. The plan is that he’ll be back and challenging at that weight class.”