Seven of the 18 competing Penn State wrestlers placed first in the Keystone Classic at the Palestra Sunday. The Nittany Lions finished first in the tournament with 190.5 team points, far ahead of second-place Northwestern’s 156.6.
Jered Cortez, Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal, Anthony Cassar, and Nick Nevills all claimed individual titles, going a combined 30-0. Penn State very well could’ve won titles in nine weight classes, but the Nittany Lions were without Vincenzo Joseph who didn’t compete in the tournament although he was originally granted a top seed. They also lost top-seeded 133 lb. wrestler Corey Keener in the semi-finals due to an injury forfeit. No reason for Joseph’s absence was given.
Now, with a significant sample size through more than a week of wrestling, we took a look at what we’ve learned about Penn State so far. Of course, there isn’t much to be said about 149, 157, 174, and 184 lbs., given the returning, reliable success at those weights.
Devin Schnupp finally picked up his first collegiate win Sunday with a 15-9 win over Mike Simonetti of Franklin and Marshall. Schnupp finished 1-2 at the tournament as he continues to take his lumps as a redshirt freshman. After this weekend, Schnupp is now 1-5 and has been the lone weak spot in an otherwise overpowering lineup.
Penn State has lost four dual bouts and Schnupp has had three of them, all to begin the the duals. While the Nittany Lions have handled all their opponents with ease and Schnupp hasn’t allowed bonus points to date, when the Big Ten schedule rolls around and he has to face top 125-pounders like No. 1 Nathan Tomasello and No. 2 Nick Suriano in much closer duals, Schnupp’s inexperience could hamper their push towards a regular season conference title. How Schnupp fares against reigning NCAA champion No. 4 Darian Cruz in the Nittany Lions’ next dual against Lehigh will give a strong indication if they have a situation similar to the one at 133 lbs a year ago.
Schnupp seems to be the only option Cael Sanderson is considering at 125 lbs. since no other wrestler competed at that weight class Sunday.
Off to a 5-0 start, No 15 Corey Keener has exceeded expectations, injected himself into the middle of the team’s dominant lineup, and quickly become a fan favorite. With two wins Sunday, he was on his way to winning the title at the Keystone Classic before taking two injury forfeits and placing sixth. Keener’s health is a critical factor for Penn State, since the team doesn’t have a competitive alternative at 133 lbs. and will have to rely on him to jumpstart the team given Schnupp’s early struggles.
Backups George Carpenter and Dominic Giangelli both entered the tournament at 133 lbs. and each finished 1-2.
Jered Cortez won four bouts Sunday to capture an individual title and run his undefeated start to 7-0. He entered the season wrestling up a weight class after missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury. Cortez picked up his first two pins Sunday before winning his last two bouts by decision against unranked wrestlers. As the season continues, Cortez becoming more acclimated with the weight class and winning more bonus points will be a big hurdle for the Nittany Lions, although Sunday’s first place finish was certainly a nice start.
Freshman Nick Lee is 7-2 through two open tournaments and is waiting in the wings to provide reinforcements like another true freshman was a year ago until January.
As long as No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph’s health is fine, there’s on questions here at 165 lbs. Penn State has two weeks before its next dual so he should be able to recover from whatever may’ve kept him out of the Keystone Classic. If not, this team might be in trouble. The Nittany Lions’ other 165-pounders are a combined 7-8 at open tournaments and don’t have any varsity experience.
Sanderson had a de facto wrestle-off sequel when Anthony Cassar met No. 4 Matt McCutcheon, the weight class’s top seed, in the semifinals. Cassar advanced with a 6-5 win and went on to win the the bracket, while only recording one major. Other than his loss to Cassar and an injury forfeit in the third place bout, McCutcheon had an impressive day in his season debut with two technical falls, a major, and a tight 4-2 win over Northwestern’s Zach Chakonis.
Cassar is now 6-1 to start the season and has shown signs of being a stronghold at 197 lbs., although McCutcheon, a ranked wrestler with three NCAA Championships under his belt, will likely constantly be challenging him for the starting job, as he showed in their matchup and in his other bouts Sunday. Either way, Penn State has two viable options and therefore a degree of security at 197 lbs. since Cassar’s biggest tests awaits him in January.
No. 3 Nick Nevills plowed through the competition and to a title at 285 lbs. After winning the first four bouts with a major, a fall, and two shutout decisions, Nevills met his toughest competition of the day: No. 6 Jacob Kasper of Duke who he split bouts with at last year’s NCAA Championships. Nevills pulled out a 3-1 decision over Kasper for the title and is now 8-0 as he continues to take a huge step forward in his redshirt junior season. There’s no saying that Nevills will knock off Olympic champion Kyle Snyder of Ohio State, but he appears ready to make a run at him.
In addition to extending his big start to the season, Nevills’ win over Kasper also yielded this tweet:
— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) November 20, 2017
Who you gonna call? Nick Nevills.