Penn State got the exact start it wanted on the first day of the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. — racking up bonus-point victories left and right — but the performance came at a price.
The Nittany Lions finished with 101 team points, and 11 wrestlers remain alive with eight in the semifinals. But one key wrestler will be missing from the mat Tuesday.
Penn State junior Jered Cortez suffered an ankle injury — the severity of which is unknown — in his Round of 16 match with Northern Colorado’s Owen Lamb.
Leading 5-2 with 15 seconds left in his match, Cortez aimed to keep Lamb from escaping with a strong ride. Lamb went for a roll to Cortez’s left, and Cortez’s left ankle got caught underneath himself as Cortez continued to roll to cover Lamb. The official called an injury timeout with 12 seconds left.
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Cortez grabbed his ankle immediately, jumped up to his right foot and hopped to his corner with coach Cael Sanderson and trainer Dan Monthly. Cortez’s eyes grew wide, and he appeared to say that his ankle had popped.
He finished off the final 12 seconds on one foot and won 6-3, but that was the end of his day. He medically defaulted out of the tournament.
Those who will continue on with the tournament are Zain Retherford (149 pounds), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), Bo Nickal (184), Anthony Cassar (197) and Shakur Rasheed (197). They will all represent Penn State in the semifinals. Nick Lee (141), who is competing unattached, is also in the semifinals.
Corey Keener (133) and Nick Nevills (285) are alive in the consolation bracket, as well as Jarod Verkleeren (149), who is also wrestling unattached.
As for those bonus-point victories, the Nittany Lions collected 26 of them. They had 14 pins, three technical falls and nine major decisions.
Lee made a solid case to the coaching staff to lift his redshirt should Cortez have to sit for an extended period of time. Lee opened with an 18-3 technical fall in 4:55 over Air Force’s Garrett O’Shea. He followed that with a pin in 2:58 and reached the semifinals with a 15-5 major decision over No. 4-seed Russell Rohlfing, of Cal State Bakersfield.
Rasheed, who was unseeded in the tournament, is just one win away from reaching the finals and earned bonus points the whole way. Should Cassar pick up a win in the semifinals, it would be an all-Penn State final.
Rasheed opened with a pair of major decisions but made quick work of his quarterfinals opponent. He basically shook hands with No. 3-seed Scottie Boykin, of Chattanooga, took him to his back and pinned him in 27 seconds — the quickest pin of the day for the Nittany Lions.
Nickal and Nolf had a perfect pin-to-win ratio. Nickal, though, only wrestled a total of three minutes and 39 seconds, which is just over one period.
Hall came out on fire in defense of his Southern Scuffle crown from last year. He took just 90 seconds to dispatch his first two opponents with pins. In the quarterfinals, Hall used five takedowns in a 12-3 major decision.
Devin Schnupp (125 pounds), George Carpenter (133), Bo Pipher (149), Franny Bisono (174), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Alex Nicholas (285) also competed for the Nittany Lions but were all eliminated. McCutcheon had to medically forfeit out of competition. Meanwhile, Nicholas was able to record his first collegiate win in the consolation first round.
Penn State’s team race lead is 19.5 points. It paces Northern Iowa and Lehigh, which are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. The Panthers have six semifinalists, and the Mountain Hawks have just four.
Notes: Penns Valley graduate Corey Hazel, who wrestles for Lock Haven, went 1-2 and was eliminated from the 184-pound bracket. He opened the tournament with a 9-2 loss to Northern Colorado’s Dylan Gabel. Hazel then earned a 10-4 win over Utah Valley’s Will Sumner in his first consolation match. He was then eliminated with a 6-4 loss to Stanford’s Judah Duhm. … Lock Haven was 10th in the team race with 36.5 points.