By Gary R. Blockus
MANHEIM | Top-ranked undefeated Penn State and No. 8 Michigan will duke it out for the Big Ten lead 2 p.m. Sunday at Rec Hall in State College, Pa. in the NWCA Match of the Week.
While the host Nittany Lions (11-0, 6-0) are off until Sunday’s match, the Wolverines (9-1, 4-0) host Big Ten rival Northwestern (1-7, 0-3).
“We’re never going to overlook our dual on Friday with Northwestern,” 17th-year Michigan head coach Joe McFarland said, “but regarding Penn State, it’s a great place to wrestle. The fans will be rowdy there, Rec Hall will be full, and it will be a great atmosphere, hostile, for our team to wrestle.”
Both Penn State and Michigan have
agreed to be host sites for the 2016 NWCA National Championship Dual Series on Sunday, Feb. 21, with eight Big Ten teams hosting the dual meet champions of the seven other NCAA Division I wrestling conferences, along with one at-large non-Big Ten team based on national rankings and availability.
“We got some big matches coming up here with Michigan, Ohio State, Lehigh, Michigan State and the Dual Championship series match,” Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson told Nate Cobler of the Centre Daily Times. “We are winding down but we got a lot of tough matches coming up.”
Nine of the 10 Nittany Lion starters are ranked, led by four No. 1s in sophomore Zain Retherford (149), freshman Jason Nolf (157), freshman Bo Nickal (174) and senior Morgan McIntosh (197).
Penn State also boasts three-time All-American and current No. 4 Nico Megaludis, a senior at 125, No. 5 Jordan Conaway at 133, No 9 Matt McCutcheon at 184, No. 14 Jimmy Gulibon at 141 and No. 17 Shakur Rasheed at 165. McCutcheon suffered a knee injury in last week’s win over Illinois but could be available for Sunday.
The only weight Penn State doesn’t have a ranked wrestler is 285, where Michigan responds with fourth-ranked junior Adam Coon, who finished second to North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski at the 2015 NCAA Championships.
“They have a very good dual meet team. The Big Ten is very solid this year,” Sanderson said. “It’s a very good team and they beat up on Ohio State a couple weeks ago but every match matters for us. It should be a fun match.”
Michigan’s lineup includes Alex Pantaleo (149) and Max Huntley (197), both ranked No. 6; No. 8 Dominic Abounader at 184, No. 9 Brian Murphy at 157, No; 13 Davonte Mahomes at 174 and No. 17 Rossi Bruno at 133.
Abounader, Huntley and Kuhn are all undefeated in dual meets this season.
Since a 23-12 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma on Nov. 22, the Wolverines have reeled off six straight wins to build some momentum.
“I feel like ever since we came back from the holiday, the guys are really getting into their stride as a team,” McFarlane said. “We’re coming together better, and that’s showing in our dual results. We’re not as consistent as I’d like us to be, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
McFarlane said the Rec Hall atmosphere, where Penn State is calling for its crowd-embracing “White Out” where all its fans are encouraged to wear white, is perfect to test his squad’s focus for the late season push.
“We have to be ready to go in there and wrestle our match and not worry about anything else,” he said. “We have to focus on our offense and getting our attacks off. Anything less will hurt you from getting your hand raised at the end. This dual will show where our team is at, and there’s no better place to do that than at Penn State.”
No. 1 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (11-0, 6-0 BIG TEN)
125 –No. 4 Nico Megaludis, Sr., Murrysville, Pa., 20-1
133 –No. 5 Jordan Conaway, Sr., Abbottstown, Pa., 17-3
141 –No. 14 Jimmy Gulibon, Jr., Latrobe, Pa., 9-4
OR Kade Moss, So., South Jordan, Utah, 15-6
149 –No. 1 Zain Retherford, So,. Benton, Pa., 20-0
157 – No. 1 Jason Nolf, Fr., Yatesboro, Pa., 21-0
165 – No. 17 Shakur Rasheed, Fr., Coram, N.Y., 13-6
OR Geno Morelli Jr. DuBois, Pa., 16-5
174 – No. 1 Bo Nickal, Fr., Allen, Texas, 21-1
184 – No. 9 Matt McCutcheon, So., Apollo, Pa, 12-2
OR Brian Brill, Jr., Lock Haven, Pa., 9-2
OR Devon Van Cura, Fr., Washington, N.C., 7-4
197 – No. 1 Morgan McIntosh, Sr., Santa Ana, Calif., 19-0
285 – Jan Johnson, Fr., Mohnton, Pa., 1-6
OR Wes Phipps, So., Grove City, Pa., 0-2
No. 8 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (9-1, 4-0 BIG TEN)
125 – Conor Youtsey, Fr., Parma, Mich., 5-8
133 – No. 17 Rossi Bruno, Sr., Brandon, Fla. , 9-5
141 – George Fisher, So., St. Charles, Ill. , 6-7
OR Zac Hall, Fr., St. Johns, Mich., 4-2
149 – No. 6 Alex Pantaleo, So., Canton, Mich., 6-2
157 – No. 9 Brian Murphy, Jr., Carol Stream, Ill., 3-2
OR Cody Vander Hagen, Jr., Hazel Park, Mich., 6-6
165 – Garrett Sutton, So., Richmond, Ill., 7-7
174 – No. 13 Davonte Mahomes, Fr., Oak Park, Ill., 9-7
184 – No. 8 Domenic Abounader, Jr., Gates Mills, Ohio, 14-1
197 – No. 6 Max Huntley, Sr., Emerald Isle, N.C., 14-2
285 – No. 4 Adam Coon, Jr., Fowlerville, Mich., 10-0
Live streaming video of the match is available on the subscription BTN2GO.