UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State wrestling head coach Cael Sanderson, the bigger the match, the better the Nittany Lions are going to wrestle. Come Friday night, Penn State did not disappoint, rising to the occasion with a dominant victory against Minnesota.
In front of a packed crowd, Penn State protected its unblemished record in full white out conditions at Rec Hall.
"I think Minnesota is always a tough team," Sanderson said. "Their kids are always in good shape and well coached. We had some close matches in the middle but our guys, for the most part, found a way to score some points."
Penn State opened at 157 with top-ranked Jason Nolf earning a decisive 19-5 major decision against No. 18 Jake Short.
Things got a bit tighter in the next two bouts as No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph defeated seventh-ranked Nick Wanzek, 3-1, at 165 pounds with a late first period takedown ultimately proving key in the victory. At 174 pounds, No. 2 Mark Hall entered the third period leading Minnesota's Chris Pfarr, 2-1, before closing out a 10-3 decision with a solid final period.
The Nittany Lions then saw back-to-back pins from Bo Nickal at 184 pounds and Shakur Rasheed at 197 pounds.
Nickal pinned Dylan Anderson at the 5:31 mark, calmly reviewing his 12th pin of the season in the media room after the win.
"I've kind of been doing that one for a while, probably since like the eighth grade," Nickal said. "So I know if he steps with his foot, I've pretty much got it."
Also going with what's tried and true was Rasheed, who needed less than a minute to pin Brandon Krone at :55 with his signature cradle.
"I feel like everybody can kind of see that he's got a pretty good cross-face cradle but that doesn't stop him from hitting it," Nickal said. "I'd say that it's pretty good, he likes it and he keeps hitting it. I'd think I would keep hitting it too if nobody's going to stop it."
Penn State's third bout of the evening between ranked wrestlers also came in its last of the night as No. 7 Nick Lee met a two-time NCAA qualifier in All-American Tommy Thorn, who entered the matchup ranked 10th on the year.
Nearly pinning Thorn in the third period, the true freshman was both dominant and confident in a 13-3 major with 3:07 in riding time.
"I thought Nick wrestled really well, Thorn is tough - a lot of experience, he's tough in all positions," Sanderson said. "Nick had a great match, wrestled well, finished his shots. He definitely look likes each match he's gaining a lot of confidence and he's wrestling really well."
For Lee, that confidence comes from his team and coaches, relying on his training and his own upcoming move, with perhaps a bit of a boost from a crowd he described as brining a special energy Friday night.
"I was out there focused on wrestling and just confident in the week leading up and the whole season training," Lee said.
With the Golden Gophers in the past though, Penn State has another quick turnaround, heading to Rutgers for a 2 p.m. matchup against the Scarlet Knights Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
"Looking forward to going to Rutgers," Sanderson said. "They always have a great crowd and a lot of energy, a great atmosphere. They have a solid team so we have to be ready to wrestle."