I’ve been to more than 10 Penn State versus Lehigh Matches going back to the 1980’s and they’ve always been a fun time with friends watching kids we used to wrestle with or, now that we’re advancing in age, that we’ve coached or just follow. This year’s match at the Bryce Jordan Center should be no exception. Lehigh my not have won a national championship but historically has had the most All Americans of any school east of the Mississippi until Penn State passed them a couple of years ago. Lehigh has slowly been building quality and depth since redoing their wrestling facilities a couple of years ago. Penn State has been rolling with 5 championships in the last 6 years with no end in sight since bringing in Coach Sanderson and his staff.
Both teams come into the match with unsettled lineups so I’m projecting a bit below. Penn State has cruised through easier duals and the Keystone Classic coming into this match. Lehigh comes in undefeated in dual matches. There is no denying that Lehigh is the 2nd best team in Pennsylvania for the last couple of years. To me this match is more about the margin of victory than the outcome, with each match being its own event. Penn State is a tough match up for every team even with the un-solidified lineup. Bonus points are tough for any team to over come and Penn State is obviously loaded with bonus point potential. Even Geno Morelli has made a real adjustment to increased aggressiveness and bonus point growth this season. At 174 either guy PSU starts could easily be a round of 12 guy. At 141 Gulibon lost kind of close to All American Joey McKenna but looked lost at the Keystone Classic. I’m not sure the staff makes a change to motivate Gulibon, his confidence has to be low or at least shaky already. Pulling him for Kade Moss right now might put him in the tank for the season, unless Moss actually beats him in the room. Moss might be more consistent than Gulibon but I don’t see him doing better than 2-2 if he has the spot come March.
Some of the matches hold different interests for me: competitive matches, growth and development of wrestlers, entertaining viewing, domination and connections to some of the guys are just a few of the thoughts flowing through my head as I count down to Sunday.
125lbs: #5 Darian Cruz (LU) vs. #7 Nick Suriano (PSU). This could be a great match to open up with. Cruz, when aggressive is slick, quick and hard to stop from neutral. Suriano has made a seemingly smooth transition to the starting lineup as a true freshman. Suriano’s hips make him hard to finish shots on. Cruz can have a hard time getting his motor going sometimes. I think that Suriano has a better all around game but I think he’s going to need to ride Cruz in order to win. Key for Cruz is getting the first takedown and not shutting it down. Suriano has recently beaten Connor Schram. Schram knocked Cruz out of the championship bracket last March at MSG. It’s hard for me to pick the higher ranked Cruz with his history of not turning on consistently for his matches. In the end I think that Suriano’s mental toughness, a willingness to wrestle hard and grind for 7 minutes, gets him a close win. This match could go in many directions; the competitive nature should make for a compelling one.
133lbs: #15 Scott Parker (LU) vs. #12 Jered Cortez (PSU). The last time I saw Cortez he lost on riding time to Drexel’s Devoy at the Keystone Classic. Parker doesn’t have the length, riding and counter skills of Devoy. His strength is neutral attacks. I think that Cortez is a bit better from neutral. His level changes and angles are just a bit crisper. Parker didn’t generate offensive points in his loss to Forys a couple of weeks ago. Did I mention that Cortez beat Parker by 2 at last years NLO? I know that the Lehigh’s room has gotten a lot deeper but I think that Cortez having to workout with the animals in his jungle will give him a bit more of a boost than Parker has gotten over the last year. I’ve got Cortez by 4 points but I wouldn’t bet any money on my predictions. This looks to be a competitive match.
141lbs: #4 Randy Cruz (LU) vs. #17 Jimmy Gulibon or Kade Moss (PSU). Cruz beat Gulibon in last year’s dual at Stabler Arena. Gulibon couldn’t get out from under Cruz, which isn’t an easy task for anyone. Gulibon’s challenge is that he can beat anyone on a given day and if aggressive with his finishes can takedown anyone in the country with ease. His problems are that he doesn’t finish quickly. Cruz’s strength is the way he ties people up and creates openings from out of ordinary angles. Gulibon’s inability to consistently finish shots quickly is custom made for Cruz’s counter offense. Go underneath Cruz at your own risk. Jimmy took bottom last year and it didn’t workout for him. Does the home crowd help Gulibon out? I think that his problems are much deeper. I’ll take Cruz by 3 or 4. Other story lines to consider: these two PA high school studs are seemingly going in opposite directions their senor year. Even if Cruz is winning, if he hangs on to small leads and crazy angles from top and neutral that means that Jimmy won’t be out of the match as he looks for neutral falls or a last minute scramble. Yet another competitive match.
149lbs: #9 Laike Gardner (LU) vs. #1 Zain Retherford (PSU). Spartacus Retherford had a couple of wins over Gardner last year; one of them was a major decision. Zain may be the most outwardly intense D1 wrestler I’ve seen in a few years. Gardner has made lots of leaps in his wrestling yet still has inconsistent matches. Can he close the gap with ZR? If Laike comes out and pushes himself for 7 minutes he keeps it a regular decision. 7 hard minutes is tough especially against Retherford. Just like Brett Metcalf used to wear people down Zain makes you question your goals in a profound way when you’re on the mat with him. It’s not just questioning your goals that cause his opponents problems. Zain is a master at exploiting foes that break good positions during a match because they are used to taking short cuts in their practice room. I think that Zain impresses the crowd at BJC and gets at least a major. I’m not saying that this will be seriously competitive but watch Gardner and his mindset. Does he start questioning his goals? How strong is he in the face of wrestling fire? Watching Zain is great for any kid or grown up that needs to see a what relentless mindset, controlled aggression and attention to detail looks like.
157lbs: #12 Jordan Kutler (LU) vs. #1 Jason Nolf (PSU). Shark attack Nolf is in a class by himself at 157lbs. I think that Joe Smith might be his toughest competition right now but I could foresee a time when Kutler moves into that category. Nolf has so many angles, so many attacks. He confused a ref so thoroughly at the Keystone classic with a modified arm bar that even with his opponent on his back for at least 5 seconds he wasn’t awarded any back points because he didn’t know what he was looking at. Kutler will need to slow Nolf down from neutral and ride him with his near wrist attacks. Is that possible? Maybe for a couple of minutes but I can’t see that working for a full 7. In the end I think that Nolf will be too much but it’s the separation I’m interested in. Can this Lehigh freshman make the case that he’s a serious threat to anyone not named Jason Nolf come March? Nolf, like Retherford can make you question your values with relentless attacks on positional mistakes as the attacks pile up and your confidence and cardio starts to take a dive. Ask Ian Brown. Nolf opens it up late coming close to the major decision. They have faced each other in freestyle at least a couple of times, point separation average is 8 points. I think that the scores have gotten closer. Can Nolf make Kutler question his goals? I don’t think so but I think that his pace could overwhelm him.
165lbs: #15 Gordon Wolf/#7 Mitch Minotti (LU) vs. #8 Vincenzo Joseph. Does Minotti come back for this match? I don’t think so and I couldn’t get coach confirmation. I love watching Gordon Wolf he looks like he’s having a great time out on the mat. The problem for him is that Joseph is to technically sound for his wide-open style. Joseph won a match over a similar but better wide open style wrestler, Chad Walsh at the Classic 12-5. The match was much closer than the final score with VJ putting Walsh on his back in the final seconds as Walsh went big and lost. VJ then had a nice win over Te`Shan Campbell (Pitt) in the finals. On some level I think that Wolf’s wide-open style will give Joseph even more of an edge. His only loss came from being overly aggressive against Keaton Subject who was sitting back waiting for attacks. Wolf won’t be sitting back. Joseph’s heavy hips and good positions should allow him to open the score up on Wolf. Wolf had a kind of close match with Anthony Valencia so he’s right there with top 20 guys. I just think that VJ is at the next level. Putting Minotti in here would be an interesting move. Cenzo ough match off the injury bench even for an All American. I’m looking forward to this match even though I don’t know for sure how will go, it doesn’t matter.
174lbs: #16 Ryan Preisch (LU) vs. #12 Shak Rasheed or #14 Geno Morelli (PSU). I think that this is another interesting match up. Preisch and his hair have had a really good opening to the season. His hair comparison to Fredrick Douglass on twitter is awesome. He just hasn’t faced any top competition so far. Who does PSU start? Shak won during the ride out at the Classic. Don’t get me started about how much I hate the ride out rule. Even if this is Shak’s first win over Morelli I’m guessing that it might earn him the nod here. If that is the case both wrestlers are aggressive. Preisch might be a bit stronger and Rasheed a bit quicker. How will that play out? Preisch won their meeting at the Southern Scuffle 3-1. I can’t remember what Shak’s cardio was like during that match and will it come into play here? Push. I’m looking forward to this one too. I confess I’d like to see Rasheed. Watching him at Rider last year was like watching lighting strike.
184lbs: Andrew Price or Kyle Gentile (LU) vs. #2 Bo Nickal (PSU). Price only has 3 matches under his belt this season, nothing since Journeyman. So I’m not sure if he will get the call. Kyle Gentile got the nod for the Mountain hawk duals. Nickal is the second wrestler in this dual that I have to mention his hair. Holy cow, I’m not sure how it stands up like that? He’s one step ahead of Frank Molinaro with his hair. Ok back to wrestling. Either way I think that Nickal is going to dominate and be grateful for the opportunity to go big. Bonus points. This may be the least competitive match on paper but watching Nickal wrestle is always fun and great for American kids that aren’t generally taught much about upper body attacks.
197lbs: Benn Haas (LU) vs. #8 Matt McCutcheon. On paper McCutcheon looks to be the better wrestler, closer match with Sleigh (Bucknell). Both guys are small for the 197lb weight class. McCutcheon has a nice low-level attack below the knee. The key is consistency with his head position and finishing quickly. Hass has reasonable funky style leg passes. I think that McM will have to move up quickly on his attacks and keep his hips heavy to avoid Hass’s counters. Hass will be the highest ranked foe that McM has faced this season. I think that the size advantage is with McM but can he get to his finishes quickly? I’m not sold of Haas’ ability to go a full 7 minutes mentally. I know the Sleigh match was almost a month ago but he wilted by the end of that match. What 197 lacks in depth this year it gains in uncertainty. I’ll take McCutcheon with a regular decision.
285lbs: #11 Doug Vollaro (LU) vs. #8 Nick Nevills (PSU). The match will close out with two ranked big guys that have totally different styles. Nevills will attack legs above and below the knee, from a tie or space. He’s not afraid to counter with some crazy rolls and big guy versions of funk. Vollaro is an old school big guy with legs as big as I’ve seen. He’s got a nice inside step shot but doesn’t uncork it a lot. Not sure if it’s a confidence issue or game plan issue. Nevills will need to utilize his quickness to get out from under Vollaro. Vollaro’s win close style is a bad match up for Nevills who will push the pace and action for most of the match. I think that Nevills closes out the match with a regular decision. Both of these guys have struggled with injuries, I hope that they get through this season injury free.
There you have it. I’ve never had much success projecting dual matches but this is my analysis and rationale. No matter the exact outcome Pennsylvania wrestling wins. Hope that you get to the match and have a great time with friends or family. See you there.