Penn State wrestling fans are in for a long month of December — the Nittany Lions will hit the mats competitively for just two duals.
They compete in a top-5 tilt with Lehigh on Sunday inside the PPL Center in Allentown. And then they’ll take on Indiana on Dec. 17 inside Rec Hall. That’s it.
For coach Cael Sanderson, those long breaks are what his wrestlers make of them.
“It is their responsibility to get the most out of it,” Sanderson said Tuesday. “They got to do a good job with their weight. They need to train and take care of themselves. They can’t look at it like, ‘Well, we only have two matches in December. I’m going to take a vacation.’ That is going to catch up to you.”
Despite the seemingly empty schedule, there’s still plenty of preparation to be done. Penn State opens 2018 with the Southern Scuffle (Jan. 1-2) — a tournament that Sanderson has said is a litmus test for how his team could compete at the NCAA championships. It then goes on to have six duals, all in January, with only two of them coming in Rec Hall.
Also, there is an important aspect that isn’t written on the Nittany Lions’ December wrestling schedule — finals week. They do have to fulfill that part of their responsibilities from Dec. 11-15.
“Finals week takes a toll,” Sanderson added. “These kids need to finish up and do well in school this semester. There is a lot coming up. It doesn’t look like it on our schedule, but these guys are busy.”
Yes, these long stretches might not be favorable for fans but they can be helpful for fighting the injury bug. Take Penn State’s last competition weekend, for example, right before Thanksgiving. It saw Corey Keener and Matt McCutcheon each get hurt and withdraw from the Keystone Classic — a tournament that Vincenzo Joseph also didn’t compete in due to an apparent injury.
“I don’t really think it has a positive or a negative effect,” Joseph said, referring to the longer break. “It’s just what our schedule is. We are just going to wrestle hard when we are wrestling. Whenver we are training, we are training hard. It is just day by day and doing what we think is best for us.”
East Coast, new home for college wrestling?
There has been a significant buzz with college wrestling on the East Coast, and it just continues to grow.
In a span of four years, the NCAA championships will be hosted in this part of the country three times — New York City (2016), Cleveland (2018) and Pittsburgh (2019). In addition to that, teams are venturing out of their comfort zones for duals.
Penn State and Lehigh will wrestle inside a hockey arena on Sunday. That is to give more people an opportunity to see the teams wrestle as the Mountain Hawks’ home gym has a seating capacity of 6,000 compared to 10,000-plus in the PPL Center.
Rutgers opened its dual season in its football stadium after its football-wrestling doubleheader didn’t take place inside Yankee Stadium like was originally planned.
Teams are also looking for more ways to draw more fans to duals.
Lock Haven is hosting the Scarlet Knights on Friday and is planning its very first White Out — something Penn State fans might be a little more familiar with.
“I think all of those things are awesome, like wrestling outside in a football stadium,” Penn State’s defending national champ Zain Retherford said. “All of these things are definitely growing the sport. The more interest you can do in events like that, I think is just better for getting the word that there is wrestling going on the East Coast, anywhere really. You can’t help but grow the sport for sure.”
Joseph and McCutcheon were both at practice on Tuesday and didn’t seem to have any effects from the pre-Thanksgiving competitions. Keener wasn’t present, but that doesn’t mean his absence was injury-related.
According to Sanderson, Penn State came out of the Keystone Classic with “some little bumps and bruises but nothing that is major.” He went on to say that had it been later in the year, Keener and Joseph — who are starters — would’ve been wrestling.