Penn State Wrestling

What’s really going on with Penn State wrestling starters Vincenzo Joseph and Corey Keener?

Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph takes down Ohio State’s Cody Burcher at 165 pounds during a dual meet in Febrary. Joseph’s recent absence from the Nittany Lions’ lineup is raising questions about his health status.
Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph takes down Ohio State’s Cody Burcher at 165 pounds during a dual meet in Febrary. Joseph’s recent absence from the Nittany Lions’ lineup is raising questions about his health status. For the CDT, file

The Nittany Lions had a week to recover from their tight win over Lehigh on Dec. 3, and are set to open their Big Ten schedule against Indiana on Sunday.

The Lehigh match raised a lot of questions, particularly about Penn State’s lineup. We’ll take a look at some of those questions with this week’s mailbag:

How extensive are Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph’s injuries. Coach Cael (Sanderson) said if it was later in the season they would be wrestling, but with (Nick) Suriano’s departure it was troubling not to see those two starters out there against a top-5 team like Lehigh. — @jsk163, Twitter

Coach Cael Sanderson, at practice ahead of the Lehigh dual, classified both injuries as “bumps and bruises.”

So when Sunday rolled around, and neither took the mat, it did raise alarm bells. The sense that the issue with Joseph, in particular, might be more than what Sanderson had previously lad on, was heightened with other idiosyncrasies in that day’s lineup.

Redshirt freshman Nick Lee, who was projected to wrestle at 141, weighed in with Zain Retherford at 149. Then Jason Nolf weighed in at 157 — and 165, Joseph’s weight.

That combination of things makes one think the Nittany Lions were at least considering sliding Lee into 149, and moving Retherford and Nolf each up a weight class. You wouldn’t think Penn State would consider pulling a redshirt and bumping two of its star wrestlers into different weight classes, unless whatever’s going on with Joseph is more than “bumps and bruises.”

As for Keener, his apparent injury during the Keystone Classic on Nov. 19 appeared at the time to be minor.

This Sunday’s dual against Indiana is unlikely to be very competitive, so if there are lingering issues with Keener or Joseph, it’s likely neither will wrestle. But, it will be about a month since we’ve seen either compete — and a month seems like a long time to recover from “bumps and bruises.”

Lingering questions surrounding Keener and Joseph’s health bring us to a twist on what has become an almost regular mailbag question:

Does Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph’s absence from the lineup increase the chance we’ll see Nick Lee?

Yes.

The Penn State coaches are competitive, and are going to want the lineup that gives them the best shot at another national title. As it appears now, even with Keener and Joseph, the No. 2 Buckeyes appear on paper to have the advantage over the Nittany Lions in both the dual and Big Ten tournament settings. Ohio State entered the highly competitive Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournament two weeks ago down two starters, and dominated the field, crowning three champs. But the Nittany Lions always seem to perform their best on the national stage. If Penn State still wants a shot at its third consecutive national championship, it’s going to have to think of a way to get more points into the lineup. Adding Nick Lee would certainly help.

Lee might not be a national championship contender right away — as Mark Hall was last year — but against a Buckeyes team that has a highly ranked wrestler in every weight class, every little bit helps. And it’s certainly possible he could pull off some Hall-like magic in March. I think the real question is: Where will Lee wrestle? Whether he comes out at 141 or 149 depends on what happens with Joseph.

Why is Devin Schnupp still wrestling at 125? Cael’s got other options; why isn’t he using them? — Matt, via email

Devin Schnupp is Penn State’s starter at 125 because Sanderson believes he’s his best guy for the job. Sanderson said Schnupp earned his spot by beating out other wrestlers for the position, and has reiterated his confidence and support for his starter multiple times this season. One of Penn State’s most experienced wrestlers who could have filled that spot, junior Kenny Yanovich, is “banged up,” per Sanderson, and likely out the rest of the season. Other options at that weight include freshmen Austin Clabaugh and Justin Lopez, who have both seen some unattached tournament action this year, with limited success. The fact that Schnupp continues to hold the starting spot despite being 1-6 on the season, means he’s likely still showing the coaches in practice that he’s their best bet. It will be interesting to see if any Penn State wrestlers enter January’s Southern Scuffle unattached at 125, and if any have a standout performance.

Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and Nick Nevills talk about Sunday's dual against Lehigh at the PPL Center in Allentown.

Don’t forget to send your questions to ncobler@centredaily.com or lmuthler@centredaily.com. Also, questions can be sent on Twitter to @ncoblercdt.

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