Patience pays off for Lions’ wrestler

By Andy Elder

For The Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK — Don’t tell Penn State senior 165-pounder Caleb Livingston that the No. 2 NIttany Lions’ 45-3 shellacking of Northwestern in front of 6,630 fans on Sunday lacked for excitement or meaning.

On a day when Penn State notched three falls, received two forfeits, added a technical fall, a major decision and two decisions, Livingston wrestled his first and what may be his only home dual meet and made the most of it.

Injuries and failed skin checks conspired to put three Wildcat starters on the bench. Northwestern head coach Matt Storniolo, the former Nittany Lion wrestler, decided to move a backup 157-pounder up a weight to fill one of those vacated spots. At the last minute, Penn State decided to send Livingston out at that weight instead of starter Vincenzo Joseph and he delivered with a pin.

“The atmosphere was awesome. Wrestling in front of Rec Hall has always been a dream of mine since I started on the team four and a half years ago. I found out afterwards when I won the Ridge Riley Award that in Jim Vollrath’s last match he also won the Ridge Riley award with a pin,” Livingston said after the Vollrath family presented him with the award.

“For me that was pretty special. He was a good friend of mine and a wrestling partner, who we lost earlier this year (to a rare form of bone cancer in December). It really meant a lot to me that we had very similar circumstances and I was able to win the award as well as him.”

Livingston packed on weight up to 205 pounds and made six starts as a heavyweight for Penn State last year when injuries sidelined Nick Nevills and Jan Johnson. Back at his more natural weight, he built a 4-2 first-period lead and then put legs in on Anthony Petrone. He used a power half-Nelson to turn Petrone for a pin in 2:19.

“That’s a move I’ve got to credit Zain with for showing me. I learned it because he hit it on me about three or four times in one match and pinned me with it. I was like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to show me that move because I wasn’t going anywhere.’ We worked on it about two weeks ago and when I got on top of him I felt his arm extend and I knew that move was there and went for it,” he said.

“Everyone’s cheering. It’s a great atmosphere. Everyone’s excited. I’m excited. That might be my only chance to wrestle in front of Rec Hall, so I’m happy I got to make the most of it. It’s always been a dream to wrestle in front of this big crowd and get a pin. I kind of enjoyed the moment.”

Most of the rest of the Nittany Lions enjoyed the dual, as well. Nick Suriano (125) and Jason Nolf (157) each recorded falls. Zain Retherford (149) and Mark Hall (174) received forfeits. Jimmy Gulibon continued his hot streak with a 20-5 technical fall in 5:25. Bo Nickal (184) rolled up a 10-1 major decision and Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) finished off the rout with decisions.

“Yeah, I think the effort was good for the most part. You’re always looking to improve, obviously,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Overall, I think we wrestled well. All things considered you are in Wisconsin two days ago and we get back in time to get off the bus and right into practice last night. Overall, we looked good.”

Storniolo is in his first year as head coach of the Wildcats after serving as interim coach last season. He wrestled one year for Penn State after winning a PIAA championship at State College Area High School. He seemed to be more displeased with his reception by the fans as his team’s performance.

“It’s good to come back and compete in an environment like this because not every match can be in a comfortable setting, and this is probably about as hostile as it gets. I wish some of these fans would remember that I did wrestle here and I never lost a match in this gym and I was Big Ten Freshman of the Year for this program. It was kind of disappointing to hear some of the things they had to say to me,” he said.

“We’re an extremely young team. We have five freshmen in the lineup, we’ve had a little bit of attrition lately with injuries and we’re a program that is rebuilding right now. It’s good for the guys to come and wrestle in a gym like this and see what they’re working toward.”

The level of competition will be decided steeper when the Nittany Lions next take the mat. They travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a 6 p.m. Friday dual meet against No. 4 Ohio State.

125: Suriano, PSU, pinned Rubinetti, 3:10. 133: Ipsarides, NW, dec. Carpenter, 4-3. 141: Gulibon, PSU, won by tech. fall over McKenna, 20-5 (5:25). 149: Retherford, PSU, won by forfeit. 157: Nolf, PSU, pinned Sullivan, 3:39. 165: Livingston, PSU, pinned Petrone, 2:19. 174: Hall, PSU, won by forfeit. 184: Nickal. PSU, maj. dec. Sliga, 10-1. 197: McCutcheon, PSU, dec. Berkowitz, 10-3. 285: Nevills, PSU, dec. Jennings, 5-4.

Ridge Riley Award winner: Caleb Livingston, 165 pounds.

Attendance: 6,630.

Takedowns: Northwestern 3; Penn State 22.

Records: Northwestern 6-6, 1-5 Big Ten; Penn State 10-0, 6-0.

Next match: Illinois at Northwestern, 7 p.m. Friday; Penn State at Ohio State, 6 p.m. Friday.