Penn State opens its 2014-15 wrestling slate Sunday against No. 17 Lehigh at Rec Hall. For the first time in some time, the Nittany Lions aren’t favorites — or close to it — to win the NCAA crown.
PSU lost 165-pound standout David Taylor and 184-pound mauler Ed Ruth to graduation. Both were mainstays as the program one four-straight NCAA crowns.
But there is more to it than that.
“We were sort of favored the last couple years,” head coach Cael Sanderson said at the team’s media day Tuesday. “It was always competitive. This year is a different dynamic. We have to improve and climb and make progress.
“I think that that’s exciting for us. Every year is different. We’ll see what we can do this year and we’ll see how well we can coach.”
Read on to learn about other challenges facing the Lions and other tidbits from Media Day:
For those thinking Penn State took the decision to redshirt 125-pound phenom Nico Megaludis and 141-pound 2013 All-American Zain Retherford lightly, rest assured it did not.
Instead, the program saw it as a benefit for both wrestlers, especially after they arrived at Penn State and were immediately thrown into the fire.
“Nico deserves a year,” Sanderson said. “He stepped in right away, and so did Zain, and they are two guys that helped us win national championships.
“We just thought it would be in their best interest to give them a chance to slow down a little bit, get a little bit bigger, work on technique, and prepare for the future.”
Both wrestlers agreed with the decision.
“I just go, go, go and don’t really focus on my technique,” Megaludis said. “I realize there are areas I need to get better. That’s a big reason for it, but if they need me, I’m ready to go.”
“I was planning on wrestling this year, and going pretty hard this summer, but the goals don’t change at all,” Retherford added. “[Sanderson] felt it was best for the team this year for me to redshirt, and in the end, I’m just going to do whatever the coaches feel is best for the team. I fully support that.”
But Sanderson agreed it is a fine line between saving for the future and potentially sacrificing the present.
“The good news is we’ll have Nico next year,” Sanderson said.Megaludis has true senior eligibility this year and will be a fifth-year senior next season. Retherford has true sophomore eligibility this year and will be a redshirt soph next season.
So what will the Lions do weight-by-weigh this fall?
This is the rundown for Sunday’s dual, at least. Similar to a year ago, there is no clarity at heavyweight entering the season.
125: Jordan Conaway
Cael’s comments: “He’s here working because he wants to be the best. I think he’s a (1)25-pounder, and I think we’ll see that this year. He stepped in at 133 (before), and now he gets to wrestle this year in his weight class”.
133: Jimmy Gulibon
141: Kade Moss
Cael’s comments: “The feedback I got (from the summer is) he wrestled very hard and used conditioning as a factor. He’s a guy that we’re going to go with on Sunday, and he has a history of success.”
149: Zach Beitz
Cael’s comments: “Beitz is a kid that is like a Conaway; he’s here all summer long training and loves wrestling. I think he’s improved quite a bit from last year.”
157: Cody Law
Cael’s comments: “Dylan (Alton) is obviously back, but he needs a little bit more time. He had (shoulder) surgery, but we're very confident. Cody has looked very good and very strong and made a lot of competition. I think he can score a lot of points for us.”
165: Garrett Hammond
Cael’s comments: “Hammon’s a kid that’s going to entertain the crowd. He’s a big-move guy, but he can score points in a hurry. If you can win two PA state championships, you’re pretty darn good.”
174: Matt Brown
Cael’s comments: “Every year we have our team vote on the leaders … he has won that award. We just need him to step it up a notch and compete with the same mentality that he has from the beginning.”
184: Matt McCutcheon
Cael’s comments: “McCutcheon’s a guy I’m very confident in. He’s just a hard-nosed, every-second type of a guy. He’s going to be tough to compete with because he’s not going to slow down.”
197: Morgan McIntosh
Cael’s comments: “I think they both (Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich) have gotten better. They both wrestled the NCAA tournament, both have had big wins. I thought Lawson was really coming on strong last year before his (knee) injury. Gingrich we’ve seen, in the last two years, he’s beaten top-ranked guys. We want to see who is going to score a lot of points at the national tournament.”
Dylan and Andrew Alton are both back for their final year. But when will they hit the mat?
“Andrew’s a late December, early January,” Sanderson said. He put no timetable on Dylan’s return, but said,. “I’m always going to be optimistic.
“The Alton situation is tricky just because they’ve been battling injury after injury. Healthy, they wouldn’t be in that situation, but that’s the hand they’re dealt. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and focus and commitment to overcome those obstacles.
“We’ll sit back, and we’ll watch, and see what happens.”
Cael Sanderson Press Conference Courtesy Penn State