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Wrestling Preview: #1 Penn State vs #7 Lehigh

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Nittany Lions celebrate 2016 National Championship
JP Pearson

Finally, the first semester schedule brings us some top-shelf competition! The Mountain Hawks of Lehigh host the Nittany Lions in the growing trend of wrestling in special event centers today in Allentown, PA. The three-year old PPL Center is the home of the Flyers minor league squad, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and boasts capacities of 8,420 for hockey, 8,500 for arena football and 10,500 for concerts. It should be interesting to see what the announced attendance is for today’s sold-out dual.

Cael Sanderson has never lost a dual to Lehigh. The last time Lehigh beat Penn State was the year before he arrived with assistant coaches Casey Cunningham & Cody Sanderson, when True Freshmen Frank Molinaro & Quentin Wright first took the mat for the Lions. That year’s Lehigh squad was 12-0 after defeating Penn State 17-16, and this year’s team is also undefeated, coming in at 4-0. They’re very unlikely to be so tomorrow, but this team is good.

They have a returning National Champion and four top-5 wrestlers:

(Lehigh records do not include Friday’s dual with Princeton)

How to Watch

What: #1 Penn State at #7 Lehigh

Where: PPL Center, Allentown, PA

When: 2p EST

How, Audio: Free Jeff “Ironhead” Byers, via GoPSUSPorts

How, Video: Free, via Patriot League webstream

How, Textual PBP: Here, in this thread below, via some kind member(s) of the BSD Wrestling Community

125

PSU fans have an increasingly rare opportunity again this year: to watch & cheer for the development of a young wrestler who is overmatched in most competitions. Today is no different as Schnupp faces off against undefeated 2017 National Champion Darian Cruz. His #5 ranking at Intermat is curious, but the rationale probably goes something like: Tomasello’s a former champ who’s come back down from 133; Suriano beat Cruz handily 7-0 last year before getting injured; Piccininni beat Cruz in the preseason Allstar Classic (which doesn’t ‘count’ on official records); and Lizak beat Piccininni this year.

Cruz is savvy on his feet, a tough rider on top and is a very strong candidate to reach the Semifinals in Cleveland in March, so Schnupp will have to put up the fight of his life to survive this one.

Prediction: Cruz by Technical Fall

Lehigh, 5-0

133

Scotty Parker is tough. In last year’s dual, he horsed Jered Cortez, then went 4-3 in St. Louis to earn his first All-American honors, placing 8th. This is such a great test for Keener to self-assess. The graduate transfer decided to level up in his last year of eligibility, and his improvement under his new coaches at Penn State has been small & steady in early results this year. Growing confidence has been apparent, but Parker is easily the toughest he has faced to date. They have a lot of common opponents in their history, with mixed but similar results, but have never faced each other. I can’t wait for this one!

Prediction: Parker by Decision

Lehigh, 8-0

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This one’s also good! Luke Karam had a stellar Pennsylvania scholastic career, with a 142-9 record and two state titles, and he’s wrestled tough early this season. He joined the legions of Division 1 opponents who have held 2x National Champion Dean Heil to Decision victories and dropped his first bout of the season to Bucknell’s Tyler Smith, 3-5.

Cortez has been steadily shaking off the rust of his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery in going undefeated with a Keystone Classic title so far this year. I suspect he’s still too slippery for Karam, but it’ll be a tough bout.

Prediction: Cortez by Decision

Lehigh, 8-3

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Lehigh’s lineup starts getting a little weaker at this weight which, as we know, doesn’t bode well against Penn State’s pain-filled middle weights. You know I gotta rep my sista Cari here!

Prediction: Pain by Pin

PSU, 9-8

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Ian Brown is in his fourth year of majoring in Chemical Engineering, which should come in handy as he tries to resolve the mysterious science of Jason Nolf. Which mix of elements will keep him off his back? Has he had time to construct a rust-proof outer shell, or will this experiment result in his complete ionization? Five minutes and 39 seconds is what he needs to set his stop watch at, for that is the slowest of Nolf’s pins so far this year.

Prediction: Nolf by Pin

PSU, 15-8

165

Vincenzo’s back after taking a few days off from competition to heal a small undisclosed injury. Wolf is coming off a wild one Friday night in Princeton’s revered Jadwin gym, a 12-19 loss to Jonathan Schleifer. While I respect the way Gordon’s surname is spelled (like, an actual wolf), I haven’t seen him wrestle yet and I’ll guess that Cael’s elite nutrition and fitness regimen includes smart handling of bumps and bruises, so let’s call it a fairly dominant, but low-scoring, Cenzo W.

Prediction: Joseph by 7-point Decision

PSU 18-8

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Here’s where the dual really gets good. Kutler was a top recruit who won last year’s mostly Penn State-less Southern Scuffle, but the 157-pound weight class at which he won it turned out to be a very poor fit. He failed to make weight at the EIWAs and then didn’t wrestle at Nationals. He’s so good, though, that he is dictating Lehigh’s lineup, forcing 2017 R12 finisher Preisch up to 184, instead of cutting again this year and going 165.

His opponent of course, is the 4th of Penn State’s National Champion Row (‘Murderers’ is so inelegant), Mark Hall, who had to dig into his bag of cement tricks late last year in fending off Preisch in the 174-pound Scuffle title bout. Hall is so positionally sound, it’s tough to picture him losing to anybody but Zahid and maybe Bo Jordan this year, but I’m very excited to see what kind of attacks Kutler is able to muster.

Prediction: Hall by Decision

PSU, 21-8

184

Like anybody who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, Ryan Preisch is easy to root for. His social media has made light of two bouts last year that he was very much in before succumbing to pins (he was beating Hall & was tied with Brian Realbuto). He’s already got huge Ws this year against Michigan’s Abounader and Virginia Tech’s Zavatsky, and wrestles loose and very strong.

Meanwhile, Bo Nickal has been getting absolutely dusted in the pin race with Nolf & Zain this year, having allowed two (2!) matches to go the distance and another to end in a mere Technical Fall. Gasp! One might think his 2017 Tourney Season resume has come back to bite him in the form of opponents committed to one thing (avoiding the fall), but then one could casually look into the bout lengths of Bo’s four Falls this year: 53 seconds, 48 seconds, 38 seconds (38 Special Yo!) and 26 seconds.

So Bo can still pin. Can Preisch still get pinned? Let’s watch and see!

Prediction: Nickal by Major Decision

PSU, 25-8

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Official match notes still show the “OR” between Cassar & McCutcheon, but I’ll guess that that Keystone Semifinal win over Mouse and subsequent title, over Matty Ice Ice Baby, combined with the rumored preseason wrestle off wins in Lorenzo will have us seeing Cassar again this afternoon. I’ll further guess that McCutcheon still has plenty of time & opportunity to re-take the spot, but the window is smaller now and he’ll have to light Chattanooga on fire at the Scuffle to make his case. Still, this weight class is not very deep nationally, so expect Cael to use all available time to allow these two to support their grappling assertions.

I listed Weiler for Lehigh, because he wrestled Friday night, but that’s not a very good reason. Especially when the match notes include their other Freshman, Jake Jakobsen. I’m out of time to change it. Jakobsen is 4-2 and Weiler is 2-2. Either way, Cassar runs it.

Prediction: Cassar by Major Decision

PSU, 29-8

285

Jordan Wood has tough losses to Michigan Giant Adam Coon (who he held to a 2-6 Decision) and to Oklahoma State’s latest athletic Light Heavyweight Derek White (2-3). Nick Nevills is a style in between them, as he doesn’t move like White and isn’t as massive as Coon (who is?), but he is growing more and more dominant each week. Nevills can get the takedown and is a force on top, which is exactly what we should expect to see today, in a low-scoring, old-school Heavyweight bout.

Prediction: Nevills by Decision

PSU, 32-8