Generally, a wrestling team likes to use the same lineup as often as possible.
However, some things pop up — an injury, multiple matches in a short amount of time — that stop that from happening.
In Penn State’s case, depth has allowed it to use multiple wrestlers all season long. One weight in general has seen the Nittany Lions use two starters with the possibility of a third close behind.
If you follow Penn State enough, you know that weight is 165 pounds.
“We’ve been going back and forth,” Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson said on Tuesday. “I’m not sure that is quite over yet.”
Shakur Rasheed started for Penn State to open the season. He beat out last year’s starter, Garett Hammond, for the starting role. Rasheed held down the spot until the Nittany Lion Open.
Geno Morelli, who transferred to the Nittany Lions last year from Pitt, won the Nittany Lion Open. He topped Hammond in the semifinals and then Rasheed in the finals. With his performance, Morelli got the starting nod for Penn State in its next match with Wisconsin. He lost a tough match to No. 3 Isaac Jordan. It was a match that Morelli led with 20 seconds left.
It would be a short stay for Morelli as Rasheed started Penn State’s next match with Rider and has been in that spot since.
Rasheed has four wins against ranked wrestlers on the year. His most recent came Friday against Purdue’s Chad Welch.
“He had a real nice win against Purdue,” Sanderson. “He got a major on Sunday so he is looking good right now.”
Welch, who was ranked No. 5 in the country, got pinned by Rasheed in the first period. Rasheed locked Welch up in a cradle and it was all over.
“It definitely meant a lot to me,” Rasheed said, “as far as the rough start I had this year. It does mean a lot to me but it’s just one match. It’s not the Big Tens, it’s not the NCAA tournament and that’s the main goal. Really, that’s just a stepping stone to the NCAA tournament and the Big Tens.”
The 165-pound problem is a nice one to have for Sanderson. It is very similar to the situation he had last year at heavyweight. Jimmy Lawson and Bald Eagle Area graduate Jon Gingrich were swapping in and out of the lineup due to Lawson recovering from a knee injury, but Gingrich wrestled well.
It was late in the season until Sanderson named an official starter. He seems to have the same mindset this year.
“We are running out of time,” he explained, “but you have to do what it takes to figure that out. If it goes late in the season, it goes late in the season. We have some good candidates there. We just want the guy that’s going to score points for us. Obviously, we want to win so it’s nothing personal in any way. It’s just getting the guy we feel based on our experiences is our best chance to help us win.”
On the mend
Jimmy Gulibon and Matt McCutcheon have battled the injury bug this season.
McCutcheon suffered from back spasms at the Nittany Lion Open and quickly recovered. He has wrestled since but the spasms came back in the Southern Scuffle. He didn’t wrestle in Penn State’s matches this weekend but Sanderson wants to give him time to get fully healthy so he is ready for the stretch ahead.
“He’s full go today,” Sanderson said. “I’m not sure if we are going to wrestle him or not on Friday. We will see.”
Gulibon, who suffered an ankle injury in the Nittany Lion Open, came back to the Nittany Lions’ lineup in the Southern Scuffle. He didn’t look quite ready after going 0-2 and was eliminated the first day of the tournament. This weekend Gulibon wrestled in Penn State’s 34-8 win over Indiana on Sunday. He looked like his usual self racking up an 11-3 major decision victory.
“I think Jimmy is getting back to full speed,” Sanderson said. “His strength is his offense so when he’s not confident that he can drive off his foot that’s a big deal to him mentally. So getting him back to 100 percent has been our priority.”
Penn State has one more Bryce Jordan Center dual left this year. The Nittany Lions square off with defending national champion Ohio State on Feb. 5.
The dual has plenty more to look forward to than Penn State’s first BJC dual meet this year with Wisconsin.
“The band is going to be there this time,” Sanderson said, “so that’s going to make it exciting. Ohio State has a great team. They’ve changed their team.”
Those changes Sanderson talks about are the additions of Kyle Snyder (285), Myles Martin (174) and Hunter Stieber (149). Snyder and Martin were both redshirting this season. They have since lifted those redshirts. Snyder’s first match will come against the Nittany Lions.
Snyder became the youngest world freestyle champion in U.S. history this past summer. He is also a Pan-Am Games champion and has beaten Nittany Lion Wrestling Club’s Jake Varner three times. Martin meanwhile wrestled against Bo Nickal in the championship of the Nittany Lion Open with Nickal edging him 4-3 in a hotly contested match.
Stieber, who is the younger brother of four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber, is returning from having surgeries on both of his elbows. It will set up an interesting match with Zain Retherford. Retherford beat Logan 4-2 in sudden victory during his true freshman season.
The good news is there is still some time to get tickets.
“Overall, the sales have been pretty good,” Sanderson said. “I think it will sell out. I think there are some tickets still available. If you don’t have your tickets, you’re going to want to get on that soon.”
USA Today/NWCA Top 25 Poll
1. Penn State
3. N.C. State
5. Oklahoma State
11. Ohio State
12. Virginia Tech
14. Iowa State
15. North Carolina
19. Central Michigan
23. Oregon State
24. West Virginia
25. Appalachian State
Others receiving votes: Chattanooga 9, Minnesota 6, Wisconsin 6, Eastern Michigan 5, Kent State 5, Arizona State 2