After competing in just five duals in two months, No. 2 Penn State wrestling enters the home stretch of its season with eight conference duals in the next 29 days, including five tilts with ranked opponents. The premier dual of the season will come Feb. 3 against No. 1 Ohio State, with Rec Hall hosting as many as five top-five matchups. In addition to the biggest in-season dual in program history, there are a handful of other intriguing pairings to look for during the next two months.
5. January 12 — No. 8 Nick Nevills vs. No. 2 Adam Coon, HWT
Before he can challenge Olympic champion Kyle Snyder of Ohio State, Nick Nevills must prove he belongs among the nation’s best heavyweights.
His bout against No. 2 Adam Coon of Michigan Friday night should be a good litmus test for the junior. All five of Nevills’ losses last season were against wrestlers ranked in the top five. Ever since he beat then-No. 4 Jacob Kasper of Duke to secure a third place finish at the NCAA Championships and then again at the Keystone Classic, Nevills has shown he’s ready to make the jump to the top class of heavyweights, until an underwhelming finish at the Southern Scuffle. Friday’s bout against Coon will prove whether he’s actually there yet.
At 6-5 and weighing 280 pounds., Coon is a unique opponent, especially for Nevills, who wrestles in the 250 pound range. If Nevills can keep up with Coon, his matchup with Snyder next month should look more promising for the team score, even if that means not allowing bonus points, unlike last year’s 19-9 loss to Snyder.
4. February 10 — No. 1 Zain Retherford vs. No. 2 Brandon Sorensen, 149 lbs. / No. 1 Jason Nolf vs. No. 2 Michael Kemerer, 157 lbs.
There’s no question that Penn State controls the 149 lb. and and 157 lb. weight classes. Over the last three seasons, Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf are a combined 150-2 and are undefeated in duals. Each won only two bouts by decision last season. Two of Nolf’s came against Michael Kemerer of Iowa and one of Retherford’s was narrowly won via tiebreaker against Brandon Sorensen of Iowa. Sorensen may have more inconsistent results against Retherford, but he and Kemerer have proven they can hold their own against the two Hodge Trophy frontrunners, which hardly any other college wrestler can say right now.
When the Bryce Jordan Center welcomes the Hawkeyes next month, either Sorensen, who is running out of time to take down Retherford, or Kemerer, who has another year of experience after losing to Nolf twice as a redshirt freshman, could give one of these stalwarts a rare challenge.
We aren’t even predicting an upset. We’re just thinking about how few times we’ve been able to watch and appreciate Nolf and/or Retherford wrestle a full seven-minute chess match.
Surprise, surprise. The top three matches come against Ohio State.
3. February 3 — No. 1 Kollin Moore vs. Anthony Cassar/No. 9 Shakur Rasheed/Matt McCutcheon, 197 lbs.
Penn State has three viable candidates to run out of the tunnel at 197 lbs. against the Buckeyes to face the weight class’s top-ranked wrestler. After placing third at last year’s NCAA Championships, No. 1 Kollin Moore is off to a 14-0 start this season and one of three top-ranked Buckeyes. Given the Nittany Lions’ strength at 197 lbs., Moore seems to be the Buckeye in the greatest danger of being upset next month. The next three weeks should be a good time for head coach Cael Sanderson to decide who his starter at 197 lbs. will be moving forward. Whoever it is, whether it’s Anthony Cassar, Shakur Rasheed, or even Matt McCutcheon, should give Moore a good bout and Penn State a chance at a pivotal win.
2. February 3 — No. 2 Mark Hall vs. No. 3 Bo Jordan, 174 lbs.
Mark Hall and Bo Jordan gave fans two memorable first-place bouts at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships last March. Jordan outlasted Hall in the conference finals, winning 6-4 in sudden victory. Hall avenged the loss 13 days later when he toppled Jordan 5-2 to win the national title at 174 lbs. Hall and Jordan enter the new semester as the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked 174-pounders, respectively.
Hall is 15-0 with four technical falls and seven falls, while Jordan, who is seeking to win his first national title after placing third twice and second last season, is 18-2 in his senior season with four falls and four technical falls. Given the tight matchups between the pair last postseason, expect to see more than one dramatic and decisive bout between them in the coming months.
1. February 3 – No. 1 Bo Nickal vs. No. 2 Myles Martin, 184 lbs.
You know how the narrative goes.
No. 1 Bo Nickal has lost only three matches in his college career. Two of them have come at the hands of No. 2 Myles Martin. Although Martin has only prevailed against Nickal in the postseason, his matchup with Nickal will be the most anticipated one of the clash between the nation’s top two teams and possibly of the season. Not only are they ranked one and two, Martin is the only person in college wrestling who has proven he can beat Nickal.
The two haven’t met since Martin upended Nickal 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Championships last March. Although Nickal is 4-2 against Martin all-time and has beaten him with ease on multiple occasions, (Nickal has pinned him once and won by six points three times, while Martin has pulled out a pair of two-point wins) the Buckeyes’ 184-pounder is 18-0 this season and matches up well with Nickal’s aggressive style. He has four falls and seven technical falls, compared to Nickal’s eight falls and one technical fall.
Like the 174 lb. matchup, February 3 won’t be the last time you see these two clash and potentially decide the outcome between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes.