Sad about Penn State sports? Don’t let The Man get you down. Watch Penn State wrestling instead!
There are a few wrinkles to start the 2017-2018 wrestling season, which sees five Nittany Lions defending their NCAA titles - but only four of them are ranked first to start the year (and the fifth may not be who you would have thought a week ago). The question marks come at 125, with a trio of grapplers looking to fill the void of the departed Nick Suriano, and, surprisingly, 197 - where the much-discussed Anthony Cassar looks to upend returned (and fourth-ranked) Matt McCutcheon.
What’s that, you say? A wrestler ranked fourth in his weight class in the nation may not even be the best at his weight in his weight room? Welcome to PSU wrestling fandom.
First up for the Lions are the Black Knights, who wrestled last weekend at the Hokie Invitational. Army has only ranked wrestler, and last year lost to the Nittany Lions 45-0 at home. This season could start off much the same.
How To Watch
What: #1 Penn State vs. Army West Point
Where: Rec Hall, University Park, PA
When: Thursday, 11/9, 7 pm ET
Audio: Free, Jeff "Ironhead" Byers, via GoPSUSports
Video: BTN+ ($$)
|No. 1 Penn State||WT||Army West Point|
|No. 1 Penn State||WT||Army West Point|
|Devin Schnupp (Fr., Lititz, PA) OR Justin Lopez (Fr., Yonkers, NY) OR Kenny Yanovich (Jr., Effort, PA)||125||Trey Chalifoux (So., Nashville, TN)|
|#15 Corey Keener (Sr., Schuylkill Haven, PA)||133||Lane Peters (Fr., Urichsville, OH)|
|Jered Cortez (Jr., Carol Stream, IL)||141||Austin Harry (Jr., Harvey's Lake, PA)|
|#1 - Zain Retherford (Sr., Benton, PA)||149||Knox Fuller (Fr., Cleveland, TN)|
|#1 - Jason Nolf (Jr., Yatesboro, PA)||157||Lucas Weiland (So., Barnhart, MO)|
|#1 - Vincenzo Joseph (So., Pittsburgh, PA)||165||Andrew Mendel (Sr., Mason, OH)|
|#2 - Mark Hall (So., Apple Valley, MN)||174||#19 - Ben Harvey (So., New Palestine, IN)|
|#1 - Bo Nickal (Jr., Allen, TX)||184||Noah Stewart (So., Lewistown, PA)|
|#4 - Matt McCutcheon (Jr., Apollo, PA) OR Anthony Cassar (So., Rocky Hill, NJ) OR Shakur Rasheed (Jr., Coram, NY)||197||Rocco Caywood (Jr., Toledo, OH)|
|#3 - Nick Nevills (Jr., Clovis, CA)||285||Bobby Heald (Fr., Bedford, NH)|
125 LBS - Match of the Meet
What? JP’s fave, Austin Clabaugh, not even listed as a possibility? It’s likely that Coach Cael wants to see what he has out of the other three before trying to burn Clabaugh’s ‘shirt. I don’t blame him, but this weekend probably won’t be much of a gauge. Last year, a then-unknown true freshman Nick Suriano was ranked number twelve and steamrolled Chalifoux via a major decision. This year, this weight is Army’s best shot at getting a win on the board. If it wasn’t at home for the Lions, I’d be tempted to go with Chalifoux, who had a winning record last year; but at home, the Lions face intense competition every day in the weight room. My gut says Yanovich, despite Schupp seemingly having an edge, via a close one.
Prediction: Kenny Yanovich by Decision
Score: PSU 3, Army 0
Last year, 133 was Penn State’s biggest liability, as ranked Jered Cortez suffered a season-ending injury midway through the season. The Lions powered through and didn’t drop a dual, and didn’t need the missing points at the NCAA tournament. This year is a different story, with Keener, a grad transfer from Central Michigan, taking over and winning the spot. Keener is ranked preseason, having qualified for the NCAAs for the Chippewas the last three years and placing 2nd at the MAC tournament last year. He’s wrestling a talented redshirt freshman from Army who won a national title as a senior in high school - but it won’t be enough. Keener will want to prove that he belongs here, and will do so convincingly.
Prediction: Keener by Major
Score: PSU 7, Army 0
The sole departure due to graduation is at 141, where journeyman (and my 2nd favorite) Jimmy Gulibon leaves a void that will be filled by the now-bigger and less injured Cortez. Despite being ranked before his injury, Cortez starts this season unranked, likely due to said injury and his bump up a weight. The one-time Illinois transfer will look to get back into form against a wrestler he faced last year at 133 - and majored then. How much Cortez wins by will portend how his season at this weight will go.
Prediction: Cortez by Major
Score: PSU 11, Army 0
We’re back, y’all, and here’s where the meat of the lineup starts. Prediction? As per usual here, it’s
Last year, Zain tech falled his Black Knight opponent with thirty seconds to go in the match. This year, he’s wrestling a freshman - it won’t last that long.
Prediction: Zain by Pin
Score: PSU 17, Army 0
Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Jason Nolf worked hard on turning his opponents, and winning by pin instead of tech fall. It worked well, as his catch-and-release transitioned into pure beauty and dominance - and he got a title out of it. He pinned his Army opponent last year, and I’m expecting something similar this year. Who will wrestle longer on Thursday night - Nolf or Retherford? Leave your bets in the comments.
Prediction: Nolf by Pin
Score: PSU 23, Army 0
Throughout last year’s regular season, Cenzo was so close to taking down the big dogs but couldn’t do it - until the NCAAs, where he wrestled masterfully, culminating in the pin heard round the wrestling world (where you still at, IMar?). He’s preseason number one at a very deep weight, and though his schedule this year could be his undoing in terms of seeding later on (once again, the Big Ten is stupid deep at this weight, and the top few seeds at the Big Tens should be the same at the NCAAs), this week won’t put up much of a challenge - Cenzo tech falled Mendel last year. He should do the same behind a crowd that now knows how exciting a wrestler he is, if the most unheralded of The Five.
Prediction: Cenzo by Tech Fall
Score: PSU 28, Army 0
Mark Hall is the sole returning national title winner for Penn State not currently ranked number one. Yes, you read that right - the reigning two-time junior world champion is second. Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia, whom Hall beat in the NCAA semifinals last year (Valencia’s only loss on the year), was preseason number two, but jumped Hall this week after the two met in the All-Star Classic (unattached) and Valencia won 3-2. It won’t be the last time the two meet this year, as it likely will be a March matchup to watch; this week is a different story. Hall’s up against Army’s sole ranked wrestler in Ben Harvey, who’s scrappy and came in second at last week’s Hokie Open to Stanford’s very good Keaton Subjeck. Hall will likely come out on fire in reaction to his loss last week, and will take it out on Harvey.
Prediction: Hall by Major
Score: PSU 32, Army 0
Will Bo be wrestling, or pretending to play dodgeball?
Bo also talks new moves that he’s planning on showing off this week, and my money’s on him beating both Nolf and Zain to the punch.
Prediction: Bo by Pin
Score: PSU 38, Army 0
Rumor has it that Cassar won the wrestle off pretty handily, but the staff wants to see what both Anthony and Mouse do in competition. But what about Shakur Rasheed? The junior who split time starting at 165 as a true freshman in 2016-2017 has REALLY bulked up and is now challenging here - we’ll see if he can break into the lineup. Right now, I’m predicting Cassar will get the go on Thursday and Mouse on Sunday; Mouse defeated Caywood in a low scoring bout last season, and it should be similar this year.
Prediction: Cassar by Decision
Score: PSU 41, Army 0
Nick Nevills moved up in the rankings this week after defeating then-#3 Tanner Hall to win the All Star classic - but he won’t have a chance to move up further until he faces Adam Coon and Kyle Snyder later on in the season. No matter, as Penn State’s most exciting heavyweight ever should get his attached season started with a bang - he’s wrestling a true freshman, and is out for blood on the year.
Prediction: Nevills by Major