In front of a raucous sold-out white out crowd in Rec Hall that included football coach James Franklin (c’mon, coach, can’t you even wear white for wrestling?), Penn State came to wrestle against Minnesota, a squad under J Robinson that simply seemed to have Cael Sanderson’s number. But the Golden Gophers have a new coach and Brandon Eggum is still winless in duals against Sanderson’s Nittany Lions - and tonight, his UM squad seemed to come to State College with one objective: stay off your back at all costs, wrestling not to be pinned not to score. That strategy worked to mitigate some of the early damage, but not for every Minnesota wrestler.
As with almost every dual against the Gophers, the meet didn’t start at the normal 125; last year, it was 149, and everybody’s favorite executioner Zain Retherford. This year, with Minnesota forfeiting 149 and not letting Retherford add to his career pins mark, the action started (or, tried to start) with the second of five undefeated Penn State wrestlers: 157er Jason Nolf.
Nolf came out strong with three takedowns in the first period, but Jake Short refused to wrestle, garnering four stall calls against him in the match; it wouldn’t have been out of the question if he had been disqualified for stalling, which would have happened with one more call. Nolf was close to nearfall at the end of the match but was given the takedown only, racking up 7 takedowns and a major decision that could have been so much more.
Next up was Vincenzo Joseph, who got a late takedown to finish the first period; like his teammate, Nick Wanzek appeared to be content with letting Cenzo control much of the action, relying on counters that Cenzo was able to fight off. The biggest action of the second bout of the night was when the average official didn’t call clear stalling against Wanzek when Cenzo backed him off the mat, but did in a more questionable similar situation against Cenzo - a call that assistant coach Casey Cunningham brought up with the ref after the match, which ended up one of Cenzo’s lowest scoring of the year.
Fellow sophomore Mark Hall was up next, taking longer than expected to trip unranked Chris Pfarr to the mat for the bout’s initial takedown, and as appeared to be the call for the night, Pfarr didn’t do much on bottom for the next almost-two minutes that Hall rode him. Almost exclusively countering Hall’s offensive moves, Pfarr was taken down a few times, then cut, and wasn’t dinged for stalling once. Hall finished oh-so-close to bonus, but did have four takedowns.
The pin parade was short on Friday, but got started with Bo Nickal. Like his fellow junior Nolf, Nickal had seven takedowns in his match against freshman Dylan Anderson; the pin might have come sooner than the third period had Anderson not been so shifty and able to roll through so many attempts to take him to his back. Immediately after Bo’s pin, junior 197er Shakur Rasheed was the only wrestler of the night to not wrestle into the second period as he took Brandon Krone down pretty quickly (but not called as quick as I’d have liked), then locked up a quick cradle and pinned the Gopher just under a minute into the first period.
Can we just award Rasheed the starting position already? Whoa nelly.
After the break, Nick Nevills came out looking to build on his strong showing last weekend; sophomore Rylee Streifel had other ideas. Nevills really was never able to get his offense going, with Streifel countering and locking Nevills up. An escape was enough to win the shaved bear bout, though, as Nevills continued to prove what an effective rider he’s become as the PSUer rode out the third period, using a valid stall warning for the five count to get a reset and simply dominate his UM opponent the rest of the period.
The 125 weight class has been the weakness for Penn State all season, and with Carson Kuhn still not in the lineup, this was going to be a weakness this weekend. It’s still a mystery how, after not being able to finish a good early shot, Devin Schnupp wasn’t taken to his back at all during the meet; Ethan Lizak got back points on back points and Schnupp was dinged for stalling, but it was kept to a tech fall as Lizak got the first Gopher takedowns of the night.
Mitch McKee looked to build on his teammate’s dominance against an unranked opponent as he quickly took Corey Keener down and rode out almost the entire first period with backpoints; a tough rider, Keener had nary an opportunity to escape in the first or second periods after another McKee counter. After four more nearfall, down 11-0 and with the match seemingly going the way of the one before it, Keener started neutral in the third period - and for good reason. The graduate senior absolutely poured it on in the third, with four takedowns in the two minutes, putting McKee on the ropes (but not dancing enough for a stall warning) and garnering a standing ovation from the sellout crowd despite the loss - what seemed to be a sure bonus point loss was held to a decision, and Keener proved that even in such a mismatch he can be a force.
Finishing up the contested bouts on the night, true freshman Nick Lee took on returning all-American Tommy Thorn, and showed why his redshirt was burned. Thorn started off with offense, but Nick rolled through what looked to be a sure takedown, and was able to take Thorn down himself by the end of the period. After a minute of riding time in the second and up 2-1, Lee cut Thorn before taking him down and bellying him out, forcing a stall call on the junior. In between the second and third periods, the Minnesota bench earned a warning after pulling the ref aside (an action that PSU radio announcer Jeff Byers noted looked suspiciously like an attempt to get Thorn a breather), but the break wasn’t enough for Thorn to overcome Lee’s attacks; to start the third, Lee chose neutral and secured the takedown. After a cut and a decent shot attempt by Thorn, Lee countered and locked up a cradle, getting four back points before the period ran out with the freshman settling for a major decision.
I didn’t see him tonight, but I imagine Zain Retherford is unhappy he didn’t get unleashed. I pity the fool who has to wrestle him Sunday.
BSD Wrestlers of the Meet: Corey Keener and Nick Lee*
“We want to look for bonus points just to help the team.” - true freshman Nick Lee on the post dual radio show
That team-first, bonus points, countering a takedown with multiple TDs of your own mentality has permeated Penn State wrestling ever since Cael Sanderson took over, and this notion has already been taken to heart by two wrestlers relatively new to the Nittany Lion weight room.
It would have been easy for Lee to go out there and be intimidated by the veteran across from him, a returning ranked All-American who came out on fire, looking to build on the momentum of the wins of his immediately preceding teammates. But despite a relatively slow start (for him), Lee poured it on late and put up bonus. That’ll be helpful come March.
Similarly, Keener also started slow and came on strong. It’s rare that we’d give a wrestler of the meet to a PSUer who lost, but this was an incredibly tough matchup for the transfer, as McKee is really, really tough on top and sneaky, as he showed in the first two periods. But Corey’s gas tank was full when McKee’s was not, and he was able to erase a bonus points deficit and looked still-ready to go at the end of the seven-minute match. That effort won’t go unnoticed, and his standing ovation was well-earned.
*Note that I almost put Bo Nickal here because of the pin and his awesome teal and yellow socks, but the fact that he had no more facial hair in this dual meet dropped him below the others. Sorry not sorry.
Bout by Bout:
157 - #1 Jason Nolf (PSU) major dec #18 Jake Short (UM) 19-5; Penn State 4, Minnesota 0
165 - #1 Vincenzo Joseph (PSU) dec #7 Nick Wanzek (UM) 3-1; Penn State 7, Minnesota 0
174 - #2 Mark Hall (PSU) dec Chris Pfarr (UM) 10-3; Penn State 10, Minnesota 0
184 - #1 Bo Nickal (PSU) WBF Dylan Anderson (UM) 5:31; Penn State 16, Minnesota 0
197 - #10 Shakur Rasheed (PSU) WBF Brandon Krone (UM) 0:55; Penn State 22, Minnesota 0
285 - #6 Nick Nevills (PSU) dec Rylee Streifel (UM) 2-0; Penn State 25, Minnesota 0
125 - #6 Ethan Lizak (UM) technical fall Devin Schnupp (PSU) 15-0 (6:22); Penn State 25, Minnesota 5
133 - #12 Mitch McKee (UM) dec Corey Keener (PSU) 15-8; Penn State 25, Minnesota 8
141 - #7 Nick Lee (PSU) major dec #10 Tommy Thorn (UM) 13-3; Penn State 29, Minnesota 8
149 - Zain Retherford wins by forfeit; Penn State 35, Minnesota 8
Final Takedown count: Penn State 27, Minnesota 4