After a month of wrestling under its belt, Penn State is undefeated.
The Nittany Lions have four wins, including one over No. 6 Virginia Tech, and have had freshmen contribute in big ways in those victories.
If you told coach Cael Sanderson that freshmen would be in his starting lineup, he might have a different outlook on how the season would have started.
“I think our team has met our expecations, even excelled them to a point,” Sanderson said of his squad. “When you have freshmen stepping up and showing they are competitive right away at the highest level, that’s a good sign. We’ve lost a few matches we didn’t think we needed to lose but that’s part of the process. Hopefully you’re learning from those experiences and I think our guys have so we will see.”
Freshmen Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal are also unbeaten on the year. Nolf has a pair of falls, a technical fall and a decision over No. 3 Nick Brascetta of Virginia Tech. He has been really impressive in his takedown game. He has racked up 23 so far with 11 of those coming in his victory against Stanford’s Ryerson Dempsey. Nolf tallied those all within the first two periods.
“He’s not always like that in here,” Sanderson said of Nolf in the wrestling room. “He’s a gamer. You put the lights on and he goes into a different zone. He’s consistent, tough and competitive in here. He loves to compete but he enjoys it too.”
Nolf agreed with his coach.
“I love to score a lot of points,” he exclaimed. “I got away from that last year at the (Southern) Scuffle. I started riding more on top and got a lot better on top. But it’s time to get back to scoring more points on my feet and then hopefully that will open up the top work.”
Nickal started the year with a technical fall, followed it up with victories over ranked wrestlers, Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly (No. 3 at the time, decision) and Cal State Bakersfield’s Bryce Hammond (No. 16, returning All-American, fall) and captured a major decision at Stanford.
Shakur Rasheed, who is also a freshman, has a win over a ranked opponent too in No. 13 Adam Fierro of Cal State Bakersfield. He earned a win in the opening dual against Lock Haven on an injury default and has suffered two losses. However, in those losses Rasheed has shown that he has a lot of upside.
“They’re confident and bold, especially Nolf and Nickal,” Sanderson said of his wrestlers. “Shakur is just kind of showing you some of his potential. He needs some mat time and experience. I’m very optomistic about him at this point as well. These guys know they don’t need to wait for two years or a year to compete for a national championship. It’s their choice they can go and contend for one now.
“It’s important for our program beacuse as you look back on the last few years it has been because of four-time All-Americans, guys in the top three and freshman placing high. We need to keep that continuing on.”
Penn State has been off since it returned from the West Coast. The break meant the Nittany Lions had some free time but still some work to do.
“We worked on a lot of fundamentals,” Sanderson said. “ I think finishing our shots is important for us. We gave them a good break too. When you have a chance to do that, you take advantage of it.”
Penn State now turns its focus on the Nittany Lion Open, which is slated for Sunday inside Rec Hall.
Jan Johnson didn’t wrestle in the Nittany Lions’ victory over the Cardinal.
It was reported that he suffered a minor leg injury and that it wasn’t a major concern.
When Penn State returned from the West Coast, Johnson had his left knee scoped.
“It’s nothing major,” Sanderson said. “It’s something he’s had a history with in his past wrestling. He just got it cleaned up. It’s a two to three week process, generally speaking, we will see how it goes.”
Two Nittany Lions ranked No. 1
InterMat released its weekly rankings on Tuesday.
Morgan McIntosh and Zain Retherford were both listed No. 1 at 197 and 149 pounds, respectively. McIntosh has been ranked No. 1 since the beginning while Retherford bumps up from his No. 2 spot.
Nolf is ranked No. 3 now after starting the year at No. 7. Nico Megaludis has dropped to No. 4 after starting the season at No. 2 and rounds out Penn Staters in the top five.
Nickal and Jimmy Gulibon each are No. 6 at their weight classes. Jordan Conaway (No. 8), Matt McCutcheon (No. 13) and Rasheed (No. 20) are the final Nittany Lion wrestlers ranked.
Oh, what a Knight!
The USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll was released on Tuesday.
The Big Ten has eight teams ranked in the top 15. The biggest surprise is Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights are No. 10 after coming off an impressive 21-13 win over then-No. 7 Cornell in the Grapple in the Garden last weekend. Rutgers is 9-1 on the season.
Penn State holds the top spot with Iowa and Ohio State trailing. Nebraska comes in at No. 5 with Oklahoma State sitting in No. 4.
Other Big Ten teams include: No. 9 Michigan, No. 11 Illinois, No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 19 Minnesota.
USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll
1. Penn State
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma State
6. Virginia Tech
13. N.C. State
16. North Carolina
17. Iowa State
21. Central Michigan
22. Old Dominion
23. Oregon State
24. West Virginia
T25. Northern Iowa
Others receiving votes: Pittsburgh 7, Stanford 7, Chattanooga 4, Utah Valley 2, Edinboro 1