When Penn State junior Luke Gardner spoke to reporters Tuesday at wrestling media availability, he said he felt his time to crack the Nittany Lions’ lineup was coming.
He didn’t, however, know that it’d come as soon as Sunday, in Penn State’s 45-0 win over Navy. It was Penn State’s 60th straight dual victory, a streak that spans five seasons.
“No,” Gardner said about knowing on Tuesday if he was starting Sunday. “I’ve just been staying the course and doing everything the coaches asked me to do so, when the time presented itself, I jumped on it.
“I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”
Gardner (149 pounds) was one of four wrestlers making their debut in a Penn State singlet, joining Kyle Conel (197), Brody Teske (125) and Creighton Edsell (184). Some would say it’s been a long time coming for the Pottsville native.
The junior has had to sit behind three-time national champ Zain Retherford for two years and was behind Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren last year. On Sunday, Gardner showed fans what they’ve been missing when he pinned his opponent in the first period.
While Gardner has spent a long time envisioning his first start, he wasn’t nervous Sunday, thanks to some help from his coach.
“Coach Cody (Sanderson) got me ready,” Gardner said. “He was like, ‘Work on your breathing.’ It’s very different wrestling in the room. You come out here and wrestle in front of so many fans, the lights and stuff, it’s a lot different. It kind of gets your blood going a little bit, so I just worked on my breathing beforehand and calmed myself down. I knew I had a job to do and went out there did it.”
Gardner did his job in style, too. He snapped off two takedowns early in the first period.
With the second one, he locked up a cradle on the Midshipmen’s Jon Park and took him to his back for a fall in 1:46. It was one of six bonus-point victories the Nittany Lions had in the dual. They led 12-0, as junior Nick Lee started the dual with a fall.
Edsell and Conel made back-to-back debuts at 184 and 197 pounds, respectively. Edsell was filling in for Shakur Rasheed. Coach Cael Sanderson said the reason the sixth-year senior was kept out of competition was both as a precaution and because he is still recovering from offseason ACL surgery.
The freshman scored the first points of his match against Andrew Buckley, two minutes into the match. Toward the end of the match, Edsell seemed to be out of gas, but so did Buckley. A late takedown handed the Wyalusing native a 5-2 win, and Penn State was rolling 29-0.
“It’s definitely an awesome feeling, definitely very energetic,” Edsell said when asked about hearing the crowd when his hand was raised. “It’s something I’ve never really felt before. I come from a really small town, so didn’t really have that back where I was from, but very awesome, very energetic.”
Conel has been the talk of Nittany Lions’ fans since he decided to use his sixth year of eligibility to compete in Rec Hall after transferring from Kent State. He gave fans a scare when he was tied 2-2 with a minute to go in his match with Jacob Koser. However, Conel got a reversal with 51 seconds left and hung on for a 4-3 win.
Teske, much like Conel, has been the talk of fans since he made his commitment to the Nittany Lions two years ago. The four-time Iowa state champ, however, wasn’t overly impressive in his debut, as he needed a stall point from Logan Treaster late in the third period to get the 2-1 win.
Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph (165 pounds), Mark Hall (174), Anthony Cassar (285) and Roman Bravo-Young (133) opened their seasons with bonus-point victories.
Joseph recorded a 20-5 technical fall in 6:02 over No. 11 Tanner Skidgel. Hall earned a fall of No. 17 Spencer Carey in 58 seconds to hand the Nittany Lions a 26-0 lead at the break.
Defending national champ Cassar came to the mat with his team up 32-0. He tacked on a fall in 4:41. Bravo-Young secured the shutout with a 17-6 major decision.
Bo Pipher filled in for an injured Brady Berge at 157 pounds and needed an escape at the buzzer to earn a 7-6 win. The shutout wasn’t what coach Cael Sanderson was expecting, but he was still pleased with the team’s effort early in the season.
“I didn’t really come into the match with a lot of expectations,” Sanderson said. “We were just hoping our kids would compete hard, and we won some close matches. These guys did a nice job and we’re happy with the way they competed. We didn’t wrestle at our best. I’m sure they (his wrestlers) didn’t feel like they wrestled at their best, but it’s November, that’s just kind of to be expected.
“I think they put a great effort in, and something we know what we can work on moving forward, so that’s the point of these early competitions.”
No. 1 Penn State 45, Navy 0
Sunday at Rec Hall
141: No. 3 Nick Lee, PSU, pinned Cody Trybus, 6:16
149: Luke Gardner, PSU, pinned Jon Park, 1:46
157: Bo Pipher, PSU, dec. Scout Skidgel, 7-6
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, PSU, tech. fall No. 11 Tanner Skidgel, 20-5 (6:02)
174: No. 1 Mark Hall, PSU, pinned No. 17 Spencer Carey, :58
184: Creighton Edsell, PSU, dec. Andrew Buckley, 5-2
197: No. 3 Kyle Conel, PSU, dec. Jacob Koser, 3-0
285: No. 1 Anthony Cassar, PSU, pinned John Birchmeier, 4:41
125: Brody Teske, PSU, dec. Logan Treaster, 2-1
133: No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young, PSU, major dec. Casey Cobb, 17-6
Takedowns: Navy 3, PSU 29
Records: Navy (2-2), Penn State (1-0)
Next: Penn State at Army West Point Invite, Sunday, 10 a.m.