Penn State’s first-semester opponents certainly know what they signed up for, facing a points-scoring juggernaut with five National Champions. Now three dual meets into the season, we’ve seen a few different approaches from those opponents. The Black Knights of Army West Point, as we might expect, brought toughness and fight at all ten weights. Central Pennsylvania liberal arts students from Bucknell wrestled cagey and dodgy at most of their weights, appearing committed to avoid giving up the biggest points.
So what did former Penn State assistant Matt Dernlan’s lads look like? A little bit of both, actually. Some scrappy, some a little cagey. A good bit of effort.
125 Joe Nelson DEC Devin Schnupp 7-4; 3-0 Binghamton
Devin Schnupp continues to scrap, but still hasn’t broken through for a W. Tonight’s opponent looked like a possibility for that, but Schnupp couldn’t finish his shots. Three to four shots looked amazing at the start, but Nelson was a big brawler mauler and each time laid the heavy hips on to avoid the takedown.
It’s always interesting to watch a wrestler try to learn to finish shots. Interesting = painful or exhilarating.
133 Corey Keener DEC Jacob Nicholson 10-4; 3-3
Despite giving up the first takedown (the last Penn State would concede on this night), Keener looks better and better each bout. You can almost see the confidence growing on the dude. Got a little sloppy in the third, but fought hard enough to reverse the reversal and earn some near fall points as well.
141 Jered Cortez MD Joe Russ 12-2 (7-3 PSU)
Cortez looked a bit more in rhythm tonight and kept up the consistency with lots of takedowns. Sunday’s multiple-match tourney should do wonders for his continued improvement.
149 Zain Retherford WBF Frankie Garcia 2:37; 13-3 PSU
Garcia looked super prepared at the outset. Neutral defense was tight, and he even reversed Zain after giving up a takedown! Alas, all good things must come to an end.
157 Jason Nolf WBF Tristan Rifanburg 4:23; 19-3 PSU
Nolf definitely looked to be taking Coach Cael’s coaching show words to heart at the start (“needs to convert more shots into points, by slowing down and focusing on technique”), but about halfway through the first period, after not much action and zero points, he picked up the pace with those absolutely brutal head snaps.
As he finished a single leg with a high leg lift and mat return, he quickly locked up a painful-looking, but not pin-worthy cradle. His own arm seemed to be under Rifanburg’s shoulder, preventing the mat-slap, so he exacerbated the pain by using his foot on the inside of the un-cradled thigh to force a nasty-looking spread eagle. Somewhere in the flurry, Rifanburg’s forehead opened up and he was mercifully awarded blood time.
Not much long afterward, another takedown resulted in another cradle that was much better positioned, and the pin was awarded.
165 Vincenzo Joseph MD Vincent DePrez 13-2; 23-3 PSU
Battle of Vinnie’s!
Psyche, no it wasn’t. Our Vinny out-Tough-Guy’d their Vinny and sealed the Vinctory in the third period.
174 Mark Hall WBF Anthony Lombardo 3:14; 29-3 PSU
Amazing above-elbow arm trap during a reversal that Hall converted into a pin.
184 Bo Nickal MD Steven Schneider 15-6, Binghamton team point deduction for unsportsmanlike behavior from Schneider; 33-2 PSU
I love how quickly our guys look for pins before even finishing their takedowns! Nolf and Hall each did it earlier, but Bo’s been doing that for two years (see: Brooks, Sammy and Gravina, Nicholas, from last year’s duals).
One of Nickal’s double legs even came from bottom and was so quick that the ref didn’t award an escape and only scored it a reversal.
Bo dropped in a sick ankle pick between blast doubles and an extremely frustrating ride, all while hinting at cradles during every one. In the end, Schneider had had more than enough and let out his frustrations with an after-bout shove that brought the team point deduction.
197 Anthony Cassar DEC Mark Tracy 10-4; 36-2 PSU
While Ant Knee displayed a couple massive double legs, he still looks inconsistent. He got a little unlucky with the last takedown attempt, getting his head stuck ala Jordan Oliver vs Logan Stieber (but without the ref awarding it like he did for Stieber).
Cael obviously sees big potential and, as Jeff Byers noted on the mic, is likely to grant him a long leash. We’ll see what Sunday’s Keystone Open results bring.
285 Nick Nevills MD Connor Calkin 12-3; 40-2 PSU
Yes, I’m psyched for Nevills’ 15 pounds of extra muscle and obviously improved top game this year, but I hope, hope, hope he’ll still grant us some more of his excellent leg attacks. And in the first period, my wish came true! He dove in on a low single that he converted into a beautiful high-crotch and big mat return, and I swooned a little.
Late in the bout, the ref appeared to grant us a makeup call from the Cassar match when he rescued Nevills from a poor decision to cut him with six seconds left, when all he had to do was ride out for the major. Control appeared to have been earned after the buzzer sounded, but the takedown was awarded and the final score was etched.
I wouldn’t call this Penn State performance thrilling, but both the fundamentals and the innovation were on display and progress continued on toward March.
Sunday should provide quite a bit more intel on remaining open questions about this year’s version of Nittany Lion Dominance.