Wrestling fans didn’t have to wait long Sunday to see some pins.
In the fourth bout against Indiana, Penn State’s Zain Retherford (149) earned a fall in 3 minutes, 42 seconds. Then Jason Nolf (157) followed that up with a pin in 1:30 — and teammate Bo Nickal (185) did him one better two matches later, pinning his opponent in just 42 seconds.
Sunday was nothing new for the three Nittany Lions, who have developed a penchant for putting their opponents away quickly.
Over nine bouts this season, Retherford has spent about 29 minutes total on the mat, and Nolf a bit over 31 — compared to 81 minutes, if they would’ve instead had a decision each time.
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The near assurance of quick bonus points from those three are one reason that the Nittany Lions will be competitive with top Big Ten teams like Ohio State, which might have a stronger all-around lineup. (The Buckeyes have 10 ranked wrestlers to the Nittany Lions’ eight.)
Two weeks ago, the story was more of the same for Penn State. Against Lehigh, Retherford’s fall at 1:27 and Nolf’s technical fall are what helped fuel the Nittany Lions’ comeback — erasing a 15-point deficit.
For his part, Nickal — who’s had five bouts last less than a minute this season — said he wants some more mat time.
“It’s fun to get out and wrestle a little bit more, so I think moving forward I’m probably going to try to let the matches go a little longer because I like being out there,” he said, half-jokingly. “But I’m not going to let the guy off his back if I get him there. So if it happens quick, that’s the way it goes.”
Aside from learning that quick pins are going to be a recurring theme for the Penn State trio, Sunday also provided more insight into the season.
Here are four more takeaways, ahead of the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1-2:
Schnupp showed some offense
Fighting through what appeared to be a bloody nose, Penn State’s lone freshman starter, Devin Schnupp, stuck right with Indiana’s two-time NCAA qualifier Elijah Oliver through most of the first two periods, giving up a takedown at the end of the second to give Oliver a 3-0 lead.
The problem? Schnupp barely shot and and kept backing away from Oliver’s offense, picking up a stall warning in the first period.
But after Schnupp quickly escaped to start the third period, he shifted his style from wrestling not to lose to wrestling to win. The freshman was on the hunt for a takedown to even the score. Ultimately, his bid came up short as Schnupp took two shots, which he was unable to finish, translating in takedowns for Oliver. But Schnupp did put up an offensive fight late against one of Indiana’s tougher wrestlers, and that was encouraging to see.
We’ll see if this is the start of a turnaround for Schnupp, as the tournament-style competition of the Southern Scuffle will provide Schnupp with more opportunities to take risks and work on putting up more points against his opponents.
Nittany Lions look healthy
Corey Keener made his return to the Nittany Lions’ lineup on Sunday, sporting a bandage around his left hand, but looked healthy. He won his match against Garrett Pepple easily, 11-3, and his performance should help dispel uncertainty surrounding his injury status. Although 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph did not get to wrestle, as his Indiana opponent forfeited the match, he came out on the mat, bandage free, and by all accounts looked ready to compete.
Two weeks ago, neither Nittany Lion wrestled against No. 5 Lehigh — and their statuses were in doubt. But, for after Sunday’s dual, Penn State fans should be able to breathe easy. It looks as if they’re back for good, barring any setbacks. This is the first time Penn State’s entire starting lineup wrestled since Nov. 17 against Binghamton.
Jered Cortez’s win makes the Nick Lee decision even more difficult
One of the biggest questions this year has been whether the coaches will pull the redshirt off highly touted freshman Nick Lee at 141. After Cortez’s 2-0 loss two weeks ago to Lehigh’s Luke Karam, pressure to pull that redshirt felt like it was mounting. But Sunday’s 6-5 win over the nation’s No. 12 wrestler at 141, Indiana’s Cole Weaver, should help relieve some of that pressure off Cortez.
When asked after the match about what adjustments he’s made since Lehigh, Cortez said it was mostly focusing on opening up and “letting it fly.” He said he took head assistant coach Casey Cunningham’s advice to go out and “play wrestle,” which he said helped him avoid his tendency to lock up.
You can hardly punish a guy for taking his coach’s notes and translating them into a hard-fought, quality win. As a result, it looks as if Lee will keep his redshirt — at least for now.
Anthony Cassar could be the difference-maker come March
As crazy as it might seem, Penn State returning five national champions might not be enough for the Nittany Lions to win their third straight team title in March. One guy who might be able to tip the scales in Penn State’s favor is sophomore Anthony Cassar.
The 197-pounder has looked solid in his past two matches, posting 11 takedowns between them. He’s had a lot of success with his double leg, including a big one late in the second period Sunday to put him ahead 8-3. Cassar leads his field headed into the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1, and has a chance to make some statement wins over ranked opponents that could improve his No. 9 rank, and set him up for a better seed in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
What remains to be seen is how well Cassar matches up with Ohio State’s No. 1-ranked Kollin Moore. The Buckeye is 13-0 on the season, including a 14-5 major decision over Indiana’s Spencer Irick, who Cassar beat 16-5. The two will face each other for the first time on Feb. 3 when the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes battle at Rec Hall.