Head coach Cael Sanderson is in his fifth year at the helm of the Nittany Lions Wrestling team, and he has already established an environment where anything short of a National Title will be a clear disappointment. The 35-year-old Iowa State University graduate is regarded as one of the single greatest amateur wrestlers of the past 50 years, so he is no stranger to having expectations and stakes that are higher than most.
Just a handful of weeks into the 2014–2015 schedule, Penn State is 5–0 overall, having only had one true test in the form of the Virginia Tech Hokies on Friday, December 19. The action had the hometown crowd in Happy Valley nervous at times. Penn State came away with a 16–14 advantage in overall takedowns, but that is a margin far smaller than fans are accustomed to or comfortable with.
Senior Jimmy Lawson is a very talented and plenty intimidating individual, and he sent the crowd into a frenzy during the final match of the evening when he overcame an interesting ruling to finish off his opponent in sudden victory. It would be safer to treat this close call as a small wake-up call than to treat this as an indication of any type of regression.
The team proved that they are still on top of their game with a dominating performance at the Southern Scuffle, winning their fifth straight title at the tournament held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Over the next month, Sanderson will attempt to successfully toe the thin line of pushing his team hard enough to plow through the regular season while making sure that all bodies and minds are in optimal working order come March, when the Big Ten Championships begin in Columbus, Ohio.
The most recent Intermat rankings were released on Jan 6, and they feature a total of eight Nittany Lions ranked near the top of their weight class. Headliners include Matt Brown coming in at #4 at 174, Morgan McIntosh with the same ranking at 197 and the aforementioned Mr. Lawson coming in at #6 in the gargantuan 285 pound slot. Don’t be surprised if the musclebound Senior out of Toms River, New Jersey dabbles in the UFC or other mixed martial arts as a professional.
Also worth mention are Sophomores Jimmy Gulibon and Zack Beitz, both of whom cracked the Top-20 in their slots and are headed steadily upward as the team continues on its legitimate modern day dynasty. And we might as well show love for redshirt Freshman Matt McCutcheon, who currently stands at #16 overall at 184 with a 16-6 record.
The squad is ranked as the 7th best overall – a bit of a slight according to many in the know. The Lions will face the gauntlet of the Big Ten Conference schedule over the next two months before finishing up with matches against Oklahoma State in Stillwater and against Rider at home. The chance for them to run the board remains intact, but uncertain.
PSU 2014 Wrestling 4 Time Champs T-shirt (Order here).