UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been more than 35 days since Penn State wrestling took to the mat in Rec Hall, and about two weeks since the last time the Nittany Lions took to the mat to compete.
Come Sunday, Penn State opened its Big Ten dual slate in typical Nittany Lion fashion, bolstered by the strength of a healthy lineup.
"It's nice having a healthy team ready to roll," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said.
The Nittany Lions saw both Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph return to action at 133 and 165, respectively.
Competing for the first time since the Keystone Classic, Corey Keener highlighted in his return, closing out productive second and third periods with a pair of late takedowns for an 11-3 major decision.
Following Keener's win, Penn State's Jered Cortez ignited the spark, battling to a close 6-5 win against No. 12 Cole Weaver.
Coming off his first loss of the season in the Lehigh dual, Cortez spent the last two weeks focusing on letting it fly, avoiding what he called a tendency to lock up a bit. Before stepping on the mat though, Cortez relied on the words of coach Casey Cunningham.
"Coach Casey said to just go play wrestle, go out there and you're great when you play wrestle and flow and just throw yourself in there," Cortez said.
Tied at 3-3 headed into the second period, a second period takedown followed by a late third period escape secured the decision for Cortez, who earned his first win against a ranked opponent this season.
"A 6-5 match, obviously 11 points on the board, it wasn't a 2-0 match so I think adjustments made from Lehigh were just letting it fly and giving myself more opportunities to wrestle where I'm good," Cortez said.
Despite the deadlocked score, Cortez wasn't keeping track of the score in his head, instead focused on the words of his coach.
"I was just wrestling, I was just letting it go and I felt him pressure in, and that first takedown I hit was kind of off that same situation," Cortez said. "I felt him pressure in and I'm good there so I took advantage and scored."
Penn State then saw back-to-back pins from Zain Retherford (149) and Jason Nolf (157). Retherford built up a big first period lead before pinning Davey Tunon at the 3:42 mark. Nolf followed, making quick work of Jake Danishek with a pin at the 1:30 mark for his eighth fall of the season, sending Penn State into the break leading 19-3.
Although Joseph earned the win by forfeit, Mark Hall came out dominant for a 17-0 tech fall at 174 before Bo Nickal (184) brought the sold-out crowd to its feet with his fifth pin of the season in less than a minute at 0:42.
While his fast pins have piled up the bonus points for the Nittany Lions, Nickal would actually prefer to be out on the mat a little longer.
"It's fun to get out there and wrestle a little bit more so I think moving forward I'm going to try to let the matches go a little longer because I like being out there," Nickal said. "I'm not really going to let the guy off his back if I get him there so if it happens quick then I guess that's the way it goes."
As the holiday season approaches, Sanderson noted that part of staying fresh and hungry means taking time to spend with loved ones, as the team will spread out to take the next week at home.
"I think it's important that they get home and spend time with their families, enjoy the holidays and the Christmas season," Sanderson said.