UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Set to return to action following nearly a month off from competition, Penn State wrestling hits the road to kick off its Big Ten slate. The first week of conference competition features a pair of Big Ten road duals, beginning with No. 12 Minnesota Friday and Nebraska Sunday.
Ahead of the trip, Nittany Lion head coach Cael Sanderson and junior All-American national champion Zain Retherford joined the Penn State Coaches Show to give fans a quick look ahead in anticipation of the long awaited upcoming road duals.
Check out a few highlights from the pair of live radio segments.
Unexpected Time Off
Inclement weather forced the Nittany Lions to cancel their trip to Reno, Nevada for the Reno Tournament of Champions, originally set for Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. Although an unfortunate event that Sanderson said he has never experienced in his coaching career, he's confident the extra time off won't have a negative impact come Friday.
"It's a little tricky, you want to compete and it's a lot easier to gauge where you are when you're competing but these guys go long periods of time without competing for freestyle so they're used to that," Sanderson said. "They'll be ready to go, we have two great tests this weekend."
Looking at the Minnesota Lineup
Sanderson noted that the Golden Gophers have talent at every weight class, but the challenge of opening with such a tough conference opponent is something the Nittany Lions are certainly looking forward to, especially early on in the season.
"I think Minnesota is a real good team, I think people just thought maybe they were down because of last year, but they had a great group of recruits redshirting and some very strong kids still in the program like [Brett] Pfarr and other guys throughout the lineup," Sanderson said.
Minnesota's Pfarr will matchup with Penn State junior Matt McCutcheon, who has been working to perfect the move to 197. Pfarr is currently ranked No. 2 at 197, while McCutcheon is ranked No. 13 at 8-0 on the year.
"McCutcheon just has to do what he does well, he has wrestled very well at 197, I think he feels a lot better, he's stronger, his health has been better," Sanderson said. "Really it's just a big weekend for him. I'm looking forward to seeing where Matt is with these top guys. He has beaten some good guys but these are title contender type of guys, so a big weekend for McCutcheon for these guys, no doubt about it."
Looking Past Minnesota
Following the Golden Gophers, Sunday brings another upcoming potential highlight matchup, pairing Penn State's Bo Nickal and Nebraska's TJ Dudley. Nickal is currently ranked No. 2 at 8-0 on the year, while Dudley is ranked No. 3 at 184. Nickal is also coming off of a dominant showing in Penn State's 46-0 win against Binghamton, downing No. 13 Steve Schneider in an 18-7 major in front of another one of Rec Hall's signature sold out crowds.
"Dudley's a tough kid and he's obviously very strong, has the ability to score a lot of points and Bo's just going to be Bo," Sanderson said. "He's going to go do what he does and especially since it's the first time they'll meet. It's a good opportunity to Bo to wrestle, you're talking about a returning NCAA finalist from last year at that weight class and a great opportunity for Bo."
A B1G Conference
Since 2007, a Big Ten team has won the NCAA DI team national championship in each year. Largely paced by the Nittany Lions' five titles in the last six years, the Big Ten conference has become established in the national spotlight.
"It's gotten tough up and down the conference and obviously it's a positive and its something where kids want to wrestle in the Big Ten conference," Sanderson said.
Along with Retherford and Nickal, add in Jason Nolf (157) and the Nittany Lion trio is a nearly unstoppable group when it comes to bonus points. At a combined 26-0 on the year led by Retherford and Nolf's 9-0 marks, the three have accounted for 21 pins, four tech falls and one major.
"It's fun, my goal is to do my best and if pinning is my best then - I know that Nolf and Bo are the same exact way so it's a lot of fun competing that way," Retherford said.
Retherford also took some time to share a little piece of his pre-competition routine. First up, is a little bit of a work out to enter weigh in warm, but then after that, less is more for Retherford.
"Some guys are different, they can drink a chocolate milk or eat a sandwich or something, I feel all bloated if I do that when I try to wrestle, so less is more I'll have some Gatorade or something, maybe an apple and then I'm pretty good," Retherford said.
Right after the 125 bout, Retherford pairs up with Nolf for another warmup session.
"We just kind of grab each other behind the scenes and just get each other's heart rates up and ready to go, sweating a little bit and then jump right out there," Retherford said.
Someone who had just as stellar of a true freshman season as what Nittany Lion Nick Suriano is already putting together, Retherford has been impressed with the poise of the newcomer.
"You never have to worry about him not being ready for a match," Retherford said. "He's always ready to go and he's just loving every second of it, I see great things out of him."
Suriano, one of six starters heading into the Big Ten opener unbeaten on the year, will get his first experience with conference competition. At 8-0 this season and ranked No. 4 at 125, Suriano will match up against Minnesota's Ethan Lizak, who is ranked No. 6, coming off of a standout performance at the Southern Scuffle.
Friday's match time is set for 8 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion before the Nittany Lions meet the Huskers for a 3 p.m. match in Lincoln.