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Nittany Lions figure to have too much talent for dangerous Mountain Hawks

by on November 30, 2017 8:17 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK — To this point in the season, the only mystery surrounding the No. 1 Penn State wrestling team was not if the Nittany Lions would win in its three dual meets and tournament, but by how much.

That should all change at 2 p.m. Sunday when Penn State travels east to take on old rival — No. 5 Lehigh.

The Nittany Lions and Mountain Hawks have met 105 times since 1911. Penn State owns a 68-34-3 advantage, including wins in the last seven.

If the two teams send out their top lineups as expected, the dual will feature six returning NCAA champions and two additional All-Americans.

The rivalry, the collection of talent and a new venue for these two teams — the PPL Center in Allentown — should combine to give Lehigh an all-time home attendance record.

Instead of its usual on-campus venues, venerable Grace Hall or the bigger Stabler Arena, Lehigh scheduled the dual for PPL, which is reportedly sold out and could see as many as 10,000 fans in attendance.

That would break the previous Lehigh home attendance mark of 5,909, set during Penn State's last visit to the Lehigh Valley on February 12, 2016 at a sold-out Stabler Arena. Three of the top four home dual meet crowds in Lehigh history have come against the Nittany Lions (Feb. 2016, Dec. 2011 - the 100th meeting, and Nov. 2009).

Once the whistle blows to signal the start of the dual, the Nittany Lions figure to be favorites at six weights (149, 157, 165, 174, 184 and 285), the Mountain Hawks in two (125 and 133) and the other two (141 and 197) tossups, if not Penn State leans.

Some may argue that handicapping, but what is inarguable is that Lehigh is a dangerous team. Just ask Michigan. The Wolverines were ranked No. 4 when they walked into Grace Hall on Nov. 19. When they walked out, they were 27-8 losers to the then-No. 10 Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh will be coming off a dual against Princeton on Friday night. Penn State will be returning to the mat for the first time since Nov. 19 at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia.

Here’s a quick look at the matchups most likely to take place on Sunday. (Projected lineups based on best available information at press time).

125: No. 5 and the defending NCAA champion, senior Mountain Hawk Darian Cruz is a heavy favorite over freshman Devin Schnupp. Unless another of the freshmen emerges for the Lions, Schnupp is it. Many wondered if Kenny Yanovich was the answer, but the junior announced on LinkedIn on Nov. 13 that his career is over. He said in his post that he injured his shoulder and it will require a third reconstructive surgery.

133: Lehigh will send out third-ranked junior Scott Parker vs. senior No. 15 Corey Keener. If Keener is to attain his goal of reaching All-America status, this will be a good barometer for him to gauge his progress.

141: Lehigh freshman Luke Karam vs. Penn State junior Jered Cortez. Freshman Nick Lee continues to tear it up on the open tournament circuit, but Cortez figures to retain the position, at least in the short term. One would think that Cortez’s experience would prevail, but Karam is a talented, up-and-coming freshman.

149: Junior Cortlandt Schuyler has the misfortune of meeting Penn State’s top-ranked and two-time defending champ, senior Zain Retherford. This matchup speaks for itself. It will take a Herculean effort for anyone to knock off Retherford this year.

157: Mountain Hawk junior Ian Brown faces the same predicament against defending champion and No. 1 junior Jason Nolf. Can Nolf make it 8-for-8 in pins for the season? That will be fun to see.

165: No. 15 junior Mountain Hawk Gordon Wolf vs. No. 1 and defending champion sophomore Vincenzo Joseph. This is the kind of match Joseph should win going away if he is as good as his ranking suggests.

174: No. 5 sophomore Jordan Kutler vs. No. 2 and sophomore defending champion Mark Hall. This could be a doozy between two of the six sophomores ranked in the Top 10 at this weight.

184: No. 4 junior Ryan Preisch takes on Penn State’s top-ranked defending champion, junior Bo Nickal. As good as Preisch is, he’ll need to be on his toes against Nickal, who has made a habit of ending matches early.

197: Mountain Hawk freshman Jake Jakobsen vs. No. 11 sophomore Anthony Cassar. Cassar is starting to make a name for himself nationally after unseating returning starter and preseason No. 4 Matt McCutcheon. Cassar’s blast double has become his trademark takedown.

285: No. 14 freshman Jordan Wood vs. No. 3 junior returning All-American Nick Nevills. Woods can be a handful, but Nevills seems to improve incrementally every time he steps on the mat. He’s not flashy, but he hasn’t looked in danger of losing a match yet, either.

While this match could be close if Lehigh can pull off a couple upsets, as it did against Michigan, that’s not the most likely scenario. The Mountain Hawks are a team on the rise, but Penn State is already well established and the Nittany Lions almost always perform their best under the brightest lights.

A final somewhere in the range of Penn State 28, Lehigh 8 seems about right.



Andly Elder covers Penn State wresting for The Centre County Gazette.
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