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Assessing Penn State Wrestling’s Options At 157 In Jason Nolf’s Absence

After the dust settled from Sunday’s ugly dual at Rutgers, Cael Sanderson was still left with a large, All-American question mark in the middle of his lineup.

Although Sanderson said Monday that Nolf should be back in time for the postseason, in which he’ll be a key piece as the Nittany Lions seek their seventh NCAA title in eight years and sixth Big Ten title in as many years, Penn State will be without one of their most valuable bonus point scorers for its two toughest duals against No. 1 Ohio State and No. 3 Iowa. While other weight classes are a logjam of talented wrestlers, Nolf is the only 157 pounder on Penn State’s roster.

To make matters worse, the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes both have top-five wrestlers at 157 pounds, so the Nittany Lions, who already didn’t have much room for error in these duals, will be playing the numbers game the next two weekends.

Sanderson emphasized Monday he wouldn’t burn Brady Berge’s or Jarod Verkleeren’s redshirt, because he was optimistic enough that Nolf would return. Although both 149-pound wrestlers have impressed and seem to be the most capable fill-ins, the Nittany Lions do have a few other, albeit limited, options at 157.

Bo Pipher

Bo Pipher was the first name listed on Penn State’s projected lineup for this weekend that Wrestling Sports Information Director Pat Donghia released Wednesday morning.

He is 7-9 this season in various tournaments, including the Southern Scuffle, and one dual. Despite his losing record against lackluster competition, Pipher gives Penn State a good chance to curb the number of bonus points allowedagainst No. 5 Micah Jordan and No. 2 Michael Kemmerer. Six of his nine losses have been by two points or fewer.

Although the redshirt freshman is listed at both 141 and 149 pounds, in his lone dual, he wrestled at 165 when he lost to No. 15 Gordon Wolf of Lehigh, 24-12. Had Pipher been pinned while filling in for No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph, Penn State would’ve entered the final bout trailing Lehigh 21-20, making No. 6 Nick Nevills’ match against No. 11 Jordan Wood all the more dramatic. Furthermore, you have to consider the role wrestling up as much as three weight classes played in his blowout loss.

Luke Gardner

The 149-pound redshirt freshman was listed second on the Nittany Lions’ projected lineup for the weekend. He is 6-4 this season in tournaments and did not compete in the Southern Scuffle. In his only bout against a ranked wrestler, Gardner lost via tech fall to No. 9 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern. Although Gardner hasn’t shown much in his limited sample size, he can also serve as damage control and limit the bonus points against Ohio State and Iowa.

Zain Retherford

This is very unlikely, because Retherford has his own top-ten opponents to face these next two weekends, but it’s still a possibility if Sanderson truly believes Jordan and Kemmerer are that much better and tougher bouts than No. 7 Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State and No. 2 Brandon Sorensen of Iowa or that Retherford would have an easier time wrestling up than Pipher and Gardner. South Dakota State did something similar to this recently by moving No. 1 Seth Gross up to 141 pounds from 133 to face No. 1 Bryce Meredith for an epic, excessively-hyped regular season bout.

The key for Retherford and really, the rest of Penn State’s lineup these next two weeks is to do what it does best: Get falls. Retherford shouldn’t have an issue doing that wherever he wrestles. He was 2-0 with a pair of technical falls against Jordan last winter and is 4-0 all-time against Sorensen, including a fall in last year’s NCAA Championships semifinals.

Anthony Cassar/Shakur Rasheed

In a perfect world, Sanderson can solve both his lineup problems with one quick fix that sees either Anthony Cassar or Shakur Rasheed wrestle in place of Nolf. Additionally, in a perfect world, doing so wouldn’t require one of the wrestlers to magically lose 40 pounds in four days, but it’s nice to wish.

Cael Sanderson speaks to the media Wednesday afternoon. We’ll update this post with any additional info on the 157-pound weight class.

About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s Social Media Manager, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a junior majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. Feel free to follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter and email him at [email protected] to hear the story or if you’re bored and want to chat.


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