Newcomers steal the spotlight in Lions’ opener

By Todd Irwin

For the Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK — While much of the focus in the preseason has been about Penn State’s five returning national champions and six All-Americans, the top-ranked Nittany Lions have essentially four new starters at the other weights.

The Lions opened the season on Thursday night against Army West Point before 6,320 at Rec Hall, and the newcomers, including 141-pounder Jared Cortez, who was injured for most of last season and moved up weight this season, went 3-1.

Central Michigan transfer Corey Keener, who headlocked and pinned Lane Peters in 2:50 at 133, was the star of the newcomers, and he was named the Ridge Riley Award winner. Cortez and Anthony Cassar, who beat veteran teammate and fourth-ranked Andrew McCutcheon in eliminations, won by decision, and Devin Schnupp lost by decision at 125.

The All-Americans did what was expected of them in a 45-3 thumping of the Black Knights, recording four pins, including a strange looking fall by Jason Nolf at 157, a technical fall and a major decision.

“We’re just happy to be rolling,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Happy to get out there and see where we’re at, what we can work on and how we can improve. I think it’s going to be a great year. All of Army’s kids are tough kids, hand-fight well and they’re coached very well. It was a fun match.”

Shortly after former wrestlers Jimmy Gullibon and Geno Morelli raised the 2017 national championship banner, Schnupp, a redshirt freshman, dropped a 6-4 decision to Trey Chalifoux. Schnupp, who stepped in after the transfer of Nick Suriano, got a takedown with 15 seconds left, gave up an escape, but couldn’t get another takedown.

“Schnupp just needs some experience,” Sanderson said. “He hit some nice shots. He’s got to finish the shots.”

Keener, a three-time NCAA qualifier for Central Michigan, and Peters were scoreless when Keener hit the headlock and got the fall.

“Going out and getting a fall was pretty nice,” Keener said, “but I definitely could have opened up a little more and tried to score more points early in the first period.”

Cortez, who was 6-2 at 133 when he suffered his season-ending injury, notched five takedowns en route to a 12-6 win over Austin Harry.

“That’s the first time he’s been on the mat, as well,” Sanderson said. “He hit some nice shots. I think he would describe his performance as similar to the other guys. They want to open up a bit more and let it go. Jared has some great skills.”

Cassar, a redshirt sophomore who missed last season because of an injury, recorded four takedowns of Rocco Caywood in a 10-3 victory.

“It was nice to see Cassar wrestling again,” Sanderson said. “It’s been a couple years.”

“I definitely felt (excitement) a little bit,” Cassar said. “It’s been so long of hard training and getting ready for competition that I really tried to enjoy it as much as I could.”

Two-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford (149) had little trouble with Knox Fuller in a 17-1 technical fall in 4:13.

Returning champ Nolf gave the scoreboard operator a workout in the first period at 157 as he scored 10 points quickly on Lucas Weiland, and he what looked like a half nelson with his legs to pin Weiland.

Asked what he called the move, Nolf said, “The secret move. It might have been my first time (using it).”

“I enjoy watching it, just like everybody else,” Sanderson said. “He knows what he’s doing out there, obviously. You may see that again, just guessing, throughout the year.”

Returning 165-pound champ Vincenzo Joseph started off slowly, getting taken down by Andrew Mendel in the first period. But Joseph, known for his balance and upper body wrestling that netted him a pin of Illinois’ two-time champ Isaiah Martinez in the NCAA finals, used some solid leg shots the rest of the way in a 17-7 major decision.

Returning champs Mark Hall and Bo Nickal used respective cement mixers to pin their opponents. Hall was up 9-3 when he cemented Ben Harvey, earning the fall in 4:09.

Nickal cemented former Mifflin County star Noah Stewart and pinned him in 26 seconds, besting Nolf’s fall by 43 seconds.

Asked if he was bummed to not get the fastest fall, Nolf said with a smile, “No, not really. You’re probably going to be seeing a lot of that this year. Bo hits some crazy moves. He usually gets a pin within the first 30 seconds of a match.”

Nick Nevills, a returning All-American at 285, was up 13-8 on Bobby Heald when he took Heald down into a low leg cradle and pinned him in 6:10.

“That’s good,” said Sanderson. “He’s capable of scoring bonus points. He’s very good on top, and he can scramble. We had a lot of bonus points, and that’s something these guys are known for.”

The Lions are back at Rec Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday against Bucknell.

125–Chalifoux, A, dec. Schnupp, 6-4; 133–Keener, PS, pinned Peters, 2:50; 141–Cortez, PS, dec. Harry, 12-6; 149–Retherford, PS, tech. fall Fuller, 17-1, 4:13; 157–Nolf, PS, pinned Weiland, 1:07.

165–Joseph, PS, maj. dec. Mendel, 17-7; 174–Hall, PS, pinned Harvey, 4:09; 184–Nickal, PS, pinned Stewart, :26; 197–Cassar, PS, dec. Caywood, 10-3; 285–Nevills, PS, pinned Heald, 6:10.

Records: Army (0-1); Penn State (1-0)

Referee: Jim Rivello