The best team in the country travels east a few hours to take on a scrappy Lehigh Friday night. This long running series has changed up a bit this year for the better. The last several seasons this match has been held in November. Moving the date back to February will give fans a better version of most of the wrestlers. While not necessarily peaking for this event, in November this dual usually had lots of non starters filling in and cardio that wasn’t ready for prime time. This year some of the guys may be a little nicked up but they’re near conference championship ready. I expect both teams to show some good stuff. Penn State has been on a roll this season with four of their wrestlers ranked #1 in the country. They, like Lehigh, still haven’t figured out their lineup at a couple of weights. PSU has been alternating guys at 165 and Johnson at 285 has been getting more mat time as he’s gotten healthier. There is a rumor that Nick Nevills may wrestle. I’ll believe it when I see it. Lehigh has their highest ranked dual team in years and they too are still juggling their lineup with 57-74 looking different almost every time since the Scuffle.
On paper Penn State has the higher ranked guy 7/8 of the 10 weight classes depending on the ranking service, maybe only 6/7 depending on whom PSU puts out there at 165.
Penn State has blown out nearly all of their opponents including Nebraska who beat Lehigh soundly in mid November. Another problem Lehigh will face is the superior conditioning and pace of the Penn State wrestlers at most weight classes. I’ve commented before that I think Lehigh is not as aggressive as they could be and they need to focus on strength training to help their guys get to the next level.
This is the first time in years that Stabler has been sold out for the Penn State match. I’m not sure why attendance has been down for this match in the past but I expect that both team’s fans will be very well represented this year. Penn State has consistently filled local arenas with their own fans all season long.
Both lineups are predominantly filled with Pennsylvania high school wrestlers that are doing it at the next level; highly unusual for a top flight D1 sport.
Under Coach Sanderson Penn State recently passed Lehigh for the lead in all time AA’s. Lehigh has the smallest enrollment of any top wrestling program in the country; they have 27 NCAA individual champions, 136 NCAA All-Americans, 16 top five NCAA team finishes, 34-time EIWA Champions, and 203 individual EIWA Champions. Penn State has had 30 National NCAA individual champions, 5 or 6 NCAA team championships depending on your history book and 196 All Americans.
I’ll breakdown the projected starting lineups.
125lbs #4 Nico Megaludis (PSU) vs. #10 Darian Cruz (LU). Megaludis owns a few wins over Cruz. The bright spot for Cruz is that the score was much closer this season. Before this season Megaludis horsed Cruz, which is telling, as Megaludis isn’t known for his strength. Megaludis came off the mat after last week’s loss to Tomasello with a gait that seemed slightly off. Cruz seemed bigger at the start of the season but I’m not sure that he’s kept the muscle on during the season. Cruz is faster but will he have the strength to finish on Megaludis? The Penn State team is used to travel so I don’t see any edge for Lehigh in that department. Edge Megaludis. If Yanovich goes for PSU it’s bonus for Cruz.
133lbs #5 Jordan Conaway (PSU) vs. #25 Mason Beckman (LU). Beckman isn’t his former self this season. He has no wins over top 10 guys. He did have a tight win over JDJ (Ohio State) which Conaway beat by 4 points last weekend. Conaway can work from space or a tie and his hand and chest level defense is much improved this season. Beckman’s confidence level has affected his attacks and he’s turned into a bit of a one trick pony from neutral. Can he control the ties with Conaway to get to his seatbelt? I don’t think that Beckman can go 7 minutes at Conaway’s pace either. I’ll take Conaway with a regular decision. If Beckman scores first this could become an entertaining match.
141lbs #18 Jimmy Gulibon (PSU) vs. #15 Randy Cruz (LU). I expected both guys to be better than they are this season. It appears that Gulibon is having trouble with his mental approach to matches and it’s affecting his match decision making pretty seriously. This is a guy that came into the season ranked #1-4 depending on the service. Last season Cruz was a guy that nobody wanted to be underneath. He has no signature wins this season. I’ll go out on a limb and say the change in light weight coaches over the off season hasn’t been good for growth and development of their light weights. All that said this could be one of the more competitive matches. Gulibon likes to work from a collar tie. Cruz’s long reach may cause Gulibon trouble from that position. Cruz is best on top but Gulibon might be best from bottom. I’ll take Gulibon. I think that he’s improving slightly during the season. I’m not sure that the same can be said for Cruz.
149lbs #1 Zain “Spartacus” Retherford (PSU) vs. #21 Laike Gardner (LU). I like Gardner but this isn’t a good match up for him. They last met as true Freshman at the ESU open – Zain won a regular decision. Is this a reflection of who has grown more in their respective rooms? Zain is averaging more that 5-team points per match. He’s also the most physical wrestler in college in all three positions. Laike might be able to hang for the 1st period but I don’t see this going past the 2nd. I’d like to be proved wrong.
157lbs #1 Jason Nolf vs. Longo/Brown/#10 Minotti. Minotti got banged up at the Scuffle. He last wrestled a month ago against Penn. After the match he had ice in at least 2 spots. This isn’t the spot for someone coming back into the line up to ease back. Nolf isn’t as physical as Retherford but he will test you all the same. He is deceivingly powerful, with the hips of a bigger wrestler. But it’s his cardio that will make his opponent feel like he’s drowning and being eaten by a shark willing to surrender all of his goals for the season. I’ve watched him break several top 10 guys. Last week I think that he could have tech’d Jake Ryan but if you watch the match after injury/concussion time he just wanted to punish Ryan. Whoever Lehigh puts out there needs to be ready. But it will be very hard to prepare for what they will face on Friday night. Nolf=Shark Attack.
165lbs #15 Rasheed/Morelli vs. Matt Bonshak/#16 Ryan Preisch (LU). Preisch owns a tight win over Rasheed at the Scuffle. That performance gave Rasheed the reputation as a dual wrestler and that his weight cut would give him cardio and multiday tournament stamina problems. PSU hasn’t given any information out about who or how they will determine the weight class. They could send out Rasheed to see if he’s improved since the Scuffle. Preisch has also beaten Hammond. Morelli has had some close losses to top and mid level ranked guys but no signature wins. His style is radically different from much of the team, slow and controlled. He has mastered the art of blocking with his head for long period and then surprising his opponent with a lightening quick shot. Preisch is a good young wrestler that is growing his game. He had trouble with and lost to another blocking type wrestler Duke Pickett earlier this season at. Can he figure out Morelli? This is a tough one to figure out. I’ll take Preisch over Morelli but I think that he loses to Rasheed this time around. After all that Preach is out.
174lbs #1 Bo Nickal (PSU) vs. Gordon Wolf/ Elliot Riddick (LU). I think that Wolf gets the nod here. Riddick hasn’t looked like a guy that wants it this season. Is he banged up or is it the weight cut? Wolf has seen more time since the Scuffle than Riddick. Whoever goes need to check the scouting report. Don’t press, turn in or scramble with Nickal without fear of consequences. Nickal brings stuff to the college scene that is sorely missing – no fear of tying up hips in, high level attacks, chance taking and throws. Can’t get enough of that. I’m so tired of guys wrestling with their hips so far back that they’re in the next county. Did I mention the gas tank? Nickal with bonus points. Word is that Riddick weighs over 200lbs right now.
184lbs #4 Matt McCutcheon (PSU) vs. #2 Nate Brown (LU). This is another opening for Lehigh. Brown is tough and talented. He’s got a variety of attack points. Can McCutcheon stop Brown’s attacks with his arms and chest level? McCutcheon has worked his way into the top five, can he continue to climb the ladder? Brown like McCutcheon can attack very low on the leg, which can throw off some big guys. To me Brown is a solid favorite as McCutcheon doesn’t yet push the pace the way the previous few PSU guys do – he doesn’t have that cardio card to play with Brown. Brown by regular decision.
197lbs #1 Morgan McIntosh (PSU) vs. #18 John Bolich. Early in the season after the Studebaker win I thought that Bolich would be an AA threat. However it didn’t generate the momentum for him that I thought it would. His challenge in the past was scoring. Getting to his attacks has resurfaced as a problem again. He will have his hands full with McIntosh who is having his best season as a college wrestler. He seems to have kept his muscle size, looks injury free and appears confident and relaxed in all positions. These guys haven’t wrestled in a couple of years. I think Mc has improved since then. McIntosh wins by bonus points.
285lbs Jan Johnson or Nick Nevills (PSU) vs. #14 Max Wessell (LU). On paper this should be a solid edge: Wessell vs. Johnson, but he only has 2 wins against top 20 guys and a couple losses to lower ranked wrestlers. Consistency is a problem. Can a forceful Johnson push this match to his favor with aggression and cardio? Wessell likes to get his attacks from his tie-up. His Judo background allows him to throw lesser skilled attacks or approaches. From what I’ve seen Johnson likes to use his speed from space attacking below the thigh. It could get interesting if Johnson scores on a takedown first.
There has been talk that Nevills is coming back. I’ve seen him going live at the Lorenzo complex but I can’t believe that he’d come back to an unseeded B1G tourney. I’d imagine that he’s got an easy case for a medical shirt year – unless the brain trust is refiguring points at nationals. Okie State and Ohio State are all in with pulled redshirts and are throwing a hail Mary towards a National Championship. Only problem? Penn State has more talent and PSU’s only potential problem (outside of the usual) is relying on freshman, which isn’t always a sure thing.
I grew up in the shadows of both of these programs and truth be told I’d like to see them vie for the national championship every year. I have no favorite here I just love exciting wrestling.
Least I repeat myself I don’t have a great track record with predictions. So if you’re betting forget what you just read. The over/under margin of victory has to be about 30 for PSU. I’ll take the over.
If you want to catch up on your favorite
Lehigh Wrestler Highlights here
Penn State Highlights here