Barring any injuries (knock on wood), the starting lineup is now settled for the remainder of this season. Senior Jarrad Turner was able to ride out freshman Steve Troup in the third period to retain his starting job at 165 pounds.
At heavyweight, redshirt junior Joel Edwards, who has made the transition up from 197 pounds fairly late in the season, fought off fifth-senior Josh Walker in two close matches to win the starting the job. Both Walker and Edwards defeated C.J. Wonsettler in wrestle-offs this week as well. Walker was trying to come back from a herniated disc to salvage the remainder of his final season. Although Walker's career is not ending on the note he wanted, his unselfish contributions and leadership will be long remembered and appreciated by those close to the program.
As for Edwards, it is another positive step toward truly establishing himself as a contender in the heavyweight division. Edwards' athleticism and competitiveness make it probable that he will be able to qualify for the NCAA tournament and if he can get himself in the 230-pound-plus neighborhood, he could be a surprise for some of the other big boys in St. Louis.
So, for the record, Penn State's postseason lineup, eligibility-wise, will include two seniors, three juniors (this is counting Eric Bradley as a junior as Penn State has appealed to the NCAA for a sixth of eligibility because of medical hardship for him), two sophomores and three freshmen.
PUTTING A CAP ON THE SEASON
Penn States final dual meet of the season will be against Ohio State at the Bryce Jordan Center tonight. The match will start at 7:30 to accommodate live television coverage. Kudos to Penn State and Fox Sports and WPSX for getting such good exposure for the sport and the Penn State program this season. Of course, it will always be important to maintain that strong radio presence, as well!
And kudos to the fans for their support this season. The fans will be rewarded with an opportunity to get a nice mesh hat Friday night. The first 1,000 fans into the Jordan Center will receive the complimentary hats and these are not cheapie lids. A tip of the cap (or of the cool mesh hat) to the promotions team at Penn State for a job well done this season, too.
SCOUTING THE BUCKEYES
Ohio State is struggling a bit this season, coming into tonight's dual at 7-11 overall and 0-7 in Big Ten duals. But this is a Buckeyes team that has some very good, very young talent and head coach Russ Hellickson seems to have his team peaking at the right time. The Buckeyes took seventh-ranked Minnesota to the brink before falling 19-15 last weekend. And this is an Ohio State squad that will likely start five freshmen and not a single senior against the Nittany Lions.
A couple of key match-ups to watch will be the 133-pound bout between T.J. Enright and Bryan Heller. Enright defeated Heller at the Midlands tournament and is coming off an impressive upset of Minnesota's Mack Reiter, who was ranked third in the country at 133.
The 197-pound bout between J.D. Bergman and Phil Davis could also be a treat. Both wrestlers lead their respective teams in pins this season and both are exciting, aggressive wrestlers. Bergman finished third at the NCAA tournament last year so this is will be a good indication of where Davis is heading into the postseason.
The heavyweight match between Kirk Nail and Edwards should also be interesting. Nail has suffered 12 losses this season, but half of those have been to wrestlers ranked in the top 10. This will be another real good indicator match for the Nittany Lions.
The matchups make this look like a very intriguing meet. A Penn State win gives it a .500 record in the Big Ten this season.
MAKING NOISE AT ILLINOIS
Although the Nittany Lions lost soundly in the final team score (26-6) to third-ranked Illinois last Friday night in Champaign, Penn State may have wrestled one of its best matches of the year. Throughout the match, the Nittany Lions showed great effort, making the Illini work for just about every takedown. Penn State nearly pulled off a major upset at 165 where Jarrad Turner fell by only a riding time point to 11th-ranked Donny Reynolds. Penn State also lost on a riding time point at 184 (where Brian Glynn was able to literally hang on for the 2-1 win over Eric Bradley) and dropped a 4-2 overtime decision at 141 (where DeWitt Driscoll got in deep on a high crotch takedown attempt in overtime before falling in the rideout periods to Cassio Pero).
All 10 wrestlers went out and gave a strong efforts, though. Phil Davis and Joel Edwards came up with big individual victories Edwards using a beautiful low single-leg to drop Mark Behnke in the third period. Edwards is looking better and better at heavyweight. It is going to be tough for him to score against the 250-pound plus guys, but his quickness and riding ability provide plenty of reasons for optimism about postseason success.
TAMING THE WILDCATS
There was plenty of reason for concern about Saturdays match at Northwestern. The Nittany Lions, despite their effort Friday night, were reeling from the 26-6 loss. It was Penn States second match of the weekend, while it was the first for the home-standing Wildcats. And Penn State made what turned out to be close to a four-hour drive from Champaign to Evanston in the afternoon in the closed, cramped quarters of four vans.
When Penn State dropped four of the first five bouts, including pivotal matchups at 197 and 125, it seemed a .500 record in the Big Ten might be slipping out of reach. But the Nittany Lions went on a tremendous run over the last five bouts for a stirring 24-13 road victory that was capped by the senior Turners first dual win of the season. Turner got a takedown with 10 seconds left in overtime and was greeted by high-fives and slaps on the back by exuberant teammates and coaches at the edge of the mat.
GALLOWAY REBOUNDS ON THE ROAD
While I was critical of Nate Galloways performance against Iowa on Feb. 4, the redshirt sophomore came back with arguably his strongest efforts of the season this past weekend. Galloway dropped a 5-0 decision to Alex Tirapelle Friday night, but he got in on a couple of shots and battled Tirapelle hard from the neutral position, giving up just one hard-earned takedown to Tirapelle in the third period. Galloway then clinched the dual-meet victory for the Nittany Lions at Northwestern with a dominating major decision.
There is little doubt, based on this past weekend, that Galloway not only does want to compete at this level, but that he is not that far away from breaking into the upper echelon. His skills have never been an issue nor has his love of the sport. In this next offseason, it will be imperative that Galloway remain healthy and improve his strength to get into the upper tier next year.
One additional note: Galloway was ill in last Tuesdays match with Lock Haven, and that accounted for his lackluster performance there. He had a temperature of well over 100 degrees and vomited after the match. He went for the quick fall, hoping to get off the mat quickly, but was just trying to survive after the first period with his energy sapped by the illness.