After not hosting the NLO in 2013, head coach Cael Sanderson said the overall numbers for the 2014 tournament are expected to be down compared to previous years, which have been upward of 500 total participants at one tourney. As of Tuesday, the total number was expected to be around 250-300.
In his season debut, Lawson won the Mat-Town Open championship Nov. 30.
“So I’m not sure what it’s going to be like,” Sanderson said. “But I know there’s going to be some great competition to see.”
An official total for the number of Penn State’s participants is still unclear, but Sanderson said that if his student-athletes are healthy and medically cleared, then they’ll be expected to wrestle, including the three top recruits from the 2014 class — Jason Nolf (157 pounds), Bo Nickal (174) and Nick Nevills (285), all of whom are redshirting this season and will compete unnattached.
Penn State’s 10 opening-day starters are also expected to compete Sunday, although the coaching staff will be monitoring their health and energy levels as the tournament draws on.
Four days after the NLO, Penn State begins its Big Ten schedule with a dual meet at Maryland (Dec. 11), so he wants to make sure his starting lineup is fresh for the conference opener.
“It’s not ideal by any means to come off an open tournament where some guys could have five, six or seven matches or more and then wrestle four days later,” Sanderson said. “…. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on our guys. If we feel like somebody gets banged up or something, we’re not going to push them throughout the tournament. We want to get them ready for, obviously, Maryland. Then we have Virginia Tech (Dec. 19), who is wrestling well right now.”
Lawson returns, starting heavyweight battle heating up… again
Senior heavyweight Jimmy Lawson returned to the mat this weekend after undergoing minor off-season knee surgery and he got off to a fast start. Wrestling in the Mat-Town Open in Lock Haven Nov. 30, Lawson went 4-0 with a major decision, two technical falls and a pin en route the 285-pound championship.
“He looked good, he looked strong and he looked like he picked up right where he left off,” Sanderson said.
“(He) scored on a lot of underhooks and double legs and some big trip throws and did a really nice job on the mat, which is something we want to see out of him. He got a lot of turns on top, which was one of his specialties in high school. He was real good at putting legs in and cranking guys over. He can do the same thing in college; you just have to be committed to it.”
With him now healthy, Penn State will have to choose its starting heavyweight between Lawson and classmate Jon Gingrich for the third year in a row. While Lawson recovered, Gingrich has started the first three dual meets and amassed a 3-0 record, including one major decision.
Both Lawson and Gingrich will compete in the NLO Sunday, and whether or not they meet head-to-head, Sanderson said their performance will play a role in determining the starter for the latter portion of the season.
“They’re both potential All-Americans and guys who can score points for us, but we don’t want a deal where we don’t know who the starter is,” Sanderson said. “But that’s up to them and one of them really stepping up and establishing that position as quickly as possible. That’s what we’d like to see.”
While Sanderson was pleased with Lawson’s performance at the Mat-Town Open, he’s also seen improvement from Gingrich early in the season.
“I think he’s come a long way just mentally (and with) his confidence,” Sanderson said. “At Clarion (Nov. 22) he gave up a takedown early but he didn’t get frustrated and battled back and does what he does (in order to win 9-4).”
Dylan Alton’s return?
The coaching staff had initially hoped that 157-pound All-American Dylan Alton would also make his season debut at the Mat-Town Open this past weekend, but he was unable to participate.
As of Tuesday, it was doubtful that Alton, who underwent off-season shoulder surgery, would return for the NLO.
“We don’t want our guys sitting out,” Sanderson said, “but I don’t think he’s quite ready yet just based on practice.”
Asked about Alton’s general progress, Sanderson replied, “Coming back from injuries just takes time. I’m not sure when he’s going to be back. It might be slower than we anticipated, but we’ll have to find out. It seems like last year I said he’s going to wrestle this week and then we’re in January. He’s working hard and trying to get back. Same thing with Andrew.”