With the upcoming Big Ten tournament, one question has dominated the conversations between Penn State fans in and around Happy Valley: Will reigning national champ Jason Nolf wrestle this weekend?
Well, it depends on what Nittany Lion you ask.
Nolf — who hasn’t wrestled since suffering an injury Jan. 28 — technically doesn’t need to participate at the tournament to move onto nationals. Since he’s still ranked as the top wrestler in his weight class, he can take the mat Saturday, injury default and move on as a wild card. But coach Cael Sanderson said all along Nolf would wrestle in the postseason, and he reiterated that stance Wednesday by saying, “The plan is to let him out there and let him compete.”
“He’ll be wrestling on Saturday,” Sanderson said at Rec Hall. “So we’ll see how things roll. But he’s a tough kid and he healed quickly, so we’ll see him Saturday.”
Sanderson hesitated for a moment when asked when he was cleared to wrestle at 157 pounds. “He wouldn’t wrestle if he wasn’t cleared to go, right?” the coach said, before deflecting the question by adding he didn’t know if he could give out that kind of health information.
The head coach’s take seemed straightforward enough. But then Nolf spoke to reporters for about 70 seconds before heading into practice — and his statements seemed to conflict with Sanderson’s.
Nolf said he was “doing good” and has “been great” in his recovery since suffering an unspecified leg injury against Rutgers in late January. But when asked if he was cleared, Nolf said, “I don’t know if I’ve been cleared yet.” And, several questions later, Nolf was asked how long he’s known that he’ll be able to compete in the Big Ten tournament.
“I didn’t know that was happening yet either,” he said.
You didn’t know until now?
“I don’t know,” Nolf responded. “We’ll see what happens. See you, guys.”
And, like that, Nolf headed into the wrestling room and the media was ushered out of the hallway outside of the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. When asked for a clarification, a Penn State spokesperson initially shrugged before coming out several minutes later to tell a handful of skeptical reporters that Nolf boasts a dry sense of humor and was simply being sarcastic.
So, will Nolf wrestle at the Big Ten tournament? Well, it depends whom you believe — although a similar scenario occurred last season.
Sanderson told reporters last year that 125-pound freshman phenom Nick Suriano would wrestle in the Big Ten tournament — but the future Rutgers transfer ended up injury defaulting instead. It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether history will repeat itself, but mixed messages have been sent before. The main difference last season was Suriano was not permitted to speak with reporters.
In any event, Sanderson might’ve summed up the situation best when asked how close Nolf is to 100 percent.
“We’ll find out Saturday — right?” he asked.