Wrestling Primed For Success In Big Ten Championships
A year removed from four straight Big Ten titles, the Penn State wrestling team is primed more than ever for another in the Big Ten Championships just a few weeks away. The Nittany Lions rolled to a perfect 15-0 record overall and a 9-0 record in the best and most competitive wrestling conference in the nation. They will also face No. 2 Oklahoma State for the 2016 NWCA Dual Meet Championship this Sunday at Rec Hall. Although that title may not mean as much to the team, a win over the Cowboys will give the Nittany Lions wins over No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 4 Ohio State, and No. 9 Illinois among many other ranked teams
(in terms of the current InterMat rankings).
This squad only really cares about the upcoming tournaments in which the Nittany Lions will face tougher competition than in any previous dual meet or tournament this year; tournaments in which Head Coach Cael Sanderson failed to ever lose in his four years as a college wrestler at Iowa State. The coach knows how difficult the Big Ten Championships and National Championships will be for every team, but there is very little doubt that this man is the guy everybody wants on their side during the matches. Even with a respectable 11-4 record last year, Sanderson’s squad finished a disappointing fifth in the Big Ten Championships.
The Big Ten is just really that good however. In any given year, even a team who previously won four straight Big Ten Titles and four straight National Championships can finish fifth in the Big Ten Championships. This year is not any different when it comes to success of Big Ten teams. The fourteen team conference boasts nine squads in the InterMat Top 24 rankings, five of which are in the top 10.
The Nittany Lions have faced some tough competition this year in and out of the conference, but they still haven’t competed against sides like Iowa or Rutgers who have positions in the Top 24. It’s not to say the Nittany Lions won’t be prepared for these bouts, but it does mean they will see something they haven’t seen all season. In post match press conferences, wrestlers often talk about learning strategies and typical maneuvers of their opponents. For instance, in the final BJC Dual against Ohio State, Nico Megaludis wrestled top ranked Nathan Tomasello at 125. Chances are, the two may meet again in Iowa City for the Big Ten Championships. Megaludis has a fuller playbook on how Tomasello wrestles than he does on No. 2 Thomas Gilman from Iowa. It’s just another added challenge to an already extremely difficult tournament.
Even with all of these challenges ahead for Penn State, it’s hard to imagine a Big Ten Tournament in which the Nittany Lions don’t dominate based on their performance all season, and they do have quite a few weight classes which have the potential to be successful in the tournament. No. 4 Nico Megaludis at 125 will have his hands full with the previously mentioned wrestlers from Iowa and Ohio State. A victory here seems a little too dim for Megaluids, however, he should be able to advance maybe to at least the third place match. Jordan Conaway is another wrestler for the Nittany Lions who will have a difficult time in the tournament. Last year, wrestling at 125, Conaway fell to Gilman from Iowa, who later lost to Tomasello from Ohio State. Although that rematch may very well be featured at 125, there may be a new kid on the block competing for a championship at 133. Conaway seems as if he has become very comfortable wrestling some of the best wrestlers in the nation, especially in the last few matches. Recently against Ohio State, he made a miraculous comeback against Johnni DiJulius to pull the Nittany Lions out of the early hole against the Buckeyes. He looks more prepared than ever to take on Zane Richards and Cory Clark, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, at 133.
As the weight classes increase, the Nittany Lions find more and more wrestlers ranked No. 1 in the class. The 149-pound, 157-pound, 174-pound, and 197-pound classes all have Nittany Lions as the top ranked wrestler. Coupled with Morgan McIntosh’s experience and the fact that Jason Nolf has been easily one of the most dominant and surprising wrestlers in the nation, the Nittany Lions should have victories coming at 157 and 197. Zain Retherford and Bo Nickal are relatively inexperienced when it comes to big time collegiate tournaments. They may have the Southern Scuffle and Nittany Lion Open under their belts, but the Big Ten Championships are a whole different animal. It will definitely be interesting to see how they perform with the pressure.
If there’s one thing the Big Ten Championships are always full of, it’s unpredictability and excitement. This year’s tournament will be no different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try and guess where the Nittany Lions may finish in Iowa City. With how the season has gone, Penn State doesn’t want another finish like last year’s. It was disappointing and frustrating coming off four straight Big Ten Titles. This year, Sanderson and his team will give the Big Ten everything they have, and the Big Ten Team Championship will hopefully come back to State College along with a few individual championships. Cael Sanderson knows how to win and so does this team. The Nittany Lions don’t plan on stopping in Iowa City in two weeks.