Zain Retherford gets his hand raised after a win at the Keystone Classic (Photo/Juan Garcia)
No. 1 Penn State takes on No. 5 Lehigh on Sunday at the PPL Center. The 10,000-seat arena should be a great venue for a matchup of two top NCAA teams. Penn State will be clear favorites over every team they face this year, but Lehigh already pulled off a shocking upset over No. 6 Michigan.
The dual meet features 13 ranked wrestlers and two top-five matchups. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the dual meet. The lineups are a prediction of each team's best squad.
125: Devin Schnupp (Penn State) vs. No. 5 Darian Cruz (Lehigh)
Schnupp has been forced into action after the unexpected departure of No. 2 Nick Suriano (Rutgers). He has had a tough time so far this season as he has gone only 1-7. He will clearly be facing an uphill battle against the returning NCAA champion.
While Cruz is still technically undefeated on the season, his ranking did take a bit of a dip when he lost to No. 4 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) at the NWCA All-Star Classic even though those matches are technically considered exhibitions. Besides that loss, he has won all five of his matches and picked up a pair of technical falls. In his last match, Cruz scored a 7-0 shutout over highly touted true freshman Drew Mattin (Michigan).
Cruz is a pretty obvious favorite here. While Schnupp has struggled this season, he has helped his team somewhat by not giving up bonus. In fact, in his two-year career at Penn State he has only given up bonus points twice in 22 matches. With that being said, Cruz should be able to get Lehigh off to a good start with a major.
Prediction: Cruz (Lehigh) maj. dec. Schnupp (Penn State)
133: No. 18 Corey Keener (Penn State) vs. No. 3 Scotty Parker (Lehigh)
Kenner has begun the season with five straight wins and a pair of falls over Lane Peters (Army) and Josh Finesilver (Duke). He joined Penn State this past offseason after transferring from Central Michigan where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier.
Parker has already knocked off a pair of ranked wrestlers this season. At the Journeyman Classic, he defeated No. 13 Josh Terao (American) and No. 4 Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State). Last season, he won the EIWA title at 133 and finished eighth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American.
Considering the start that Parker is having, he should be able to keep it going against Kenner. The Penn State wrestler withdrew from the Keystone Classic with an injury. By all reports, he should be good to go, but that is yet another reason to favor Parker in this match.
Prediction: Parker (Lehigh) dec. Kenner (Penn State)
141: Jared Cortez (Penn State) vs. Luke Karam (Lehigh)
Last year against Lehigh, Cortez dropped a major decision against Parker at 133 and then missed the rest of the season with an injury. He will be looking to avenge that loss here. He has started the season with seven-straight victories and three bonus-point wins.
Karam has gone 4-2 so far this season. Both of his losses have come against ranked wrestlers. He dropped a decision against No. 17 Tyler Smith (Bucknell) and gave up the major against No. 1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State). Karam's win over Sal Profaci (Michigan) was vital to Lehigh's upset over the Wolverines.
Both wrestlers seem to take the foot off the gas and slow down the match when facing better competition. In this bout, that favors Cortez. He is a more dynamic takedown threat and can be pretty stingy defensively.
Prediction: Cortez (Penn State) dec. Karam (Lehigh)
149: No. 1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) vs. Cortlandt Schuyler (Lehigh)
Retherford ended last season with an NCAA title, the Hodge Trophy and a 63-match undefeated streak. He has continued that streak this season with seven more victories with five falls and a technical fall. The only wrestler to go the distance with him this season is No. 7 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) who lost via a 10-2 major decision.
Schuyler got the start against Michigan and defeated Malik Amine. He previously went 1-2 at the Journeymen Classic with a win over Michael Sprague (American). Lehigh could also send out Jonathan Mele who started against Edinboro and Bucknell.
Whoever ends up going for Lehigh is going to struggle against Retherford. "The Zain Train" is one of the most fitting nicknames in college wrestling since he keeps on rolling.
Prediction: Retherford (Penn State) fall over Schuyler (Lehigh)
157: No.1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) vs. Ian Brown (Lehigh)
Nolf has followed up his undefeated championship season with seven-straight falls to start this year. He has needed only 21 minutes and 46 seconds to claim those seven falls. Last season he scored bonus points in 93 percent of his matches, and so far this season it looks like he might even top that accomplishment.
Brown is back down at 157 this season after spending last year up at 165. He has already experienced ups and downs this year. In the Edinboro dual, he dropped a decision against Andrew Shomers, but he bounced back in the Michigan dual and upset No. 11 Alec Pantaleo in a match that greatly contributed to the team win.
These two wrestled two season ago. Nolf picked up a first-period fall in a dual meet match. Both wrestlers have improved, but this one might end up going the same way.
Prediction: Nolf (Penn State) fall over Brown (Lehigh)
165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. No. 15 Gordon Wolf (Lehigh)
Joseph is yet another returning NCAA champion in the Penn State lineup. In last year's final, he upset No. 2 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) to claim the title. So far this season, Joseph has gone 3-0 with two major decisions and a tech fall. He recently sat out the Keystone Classic and did not compete.
Wolf has started this year with four wins in his first five matches. His lone loss came against No. 5 David McFadden (Virginia Tech) at the Journeymen Classic. Two years ago he qualified for the NCAA tournament at 174 after starting the season at 157.
Wolf has looked solid since returning from injury in the middle of last season. However, Joseph should be able to handle this one. In his collegiate career he has only lost four matches and two were against Martinez.
Prediction: Joseph (Penn State) dec. Wolf (Lehigh)
174: No. 2 Mark Hall (Penn State) vs. No. 5 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh)
With the exception of the All-Star Classic, Hall has begun this season the way he ended his last. After running through the NCAA field and winning a title in his true freshman season, Hall is back this year in mid-season form. He has already won nine matches with six coming via fall and the other three coming via technical fall. The only reason he is not currently ranked number one by InterMat is that he lost 3-2 against No. 1 Zahid Valencia at the All-Star Classic.
Kutler struggled with weight last season at 157. So far this season it looks like moving up to 174 has alleviated those issues. He is undefeated on the season and has already picked up victories over No. 12 Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State) and No. 6 Myles Amine (Michigan).
In his two matches against ranked wrestlers this season, Kutler has been able to keep the scoring down and win close matches. That does seem like a pretty good approach for trying to upset Hall. However, Hall is still extremely hard to score against and has shown he can win those types matches as well. This one might be closer than expected, but Hall should still walk away as the winner.
Prediction: Hall (Penn State) dec. Kutler (Lehigh)
184: No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. No. 4 Ryan Preisch (Lehigh)
Nickal is the last of five-straight returning NCAA champions in the Penn State lineup. He has won all seven of his matches this season and picked up four falls. Against wrestlers not named No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) he has gone 32-0 over the last two seasons.
Like his teammate Kutler, Preisch is experiencing a surprising level of success in a new weight class. Last season, he qualified for the NCAA tournament at 174 but ended up losing in the round of 12. Since moving up to 184 this season, he has already knocked off No. 5 Domenic Abounader (Michigan) and No. 6 Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech).
Less than two months into the season, Preisch gets a chance to pick up his third top-ten upset. However, defeating Nickal is not an easy task. Preisch was able to keep those matches close and pull out the win. The victory over Zavatsky was a 4-2 win in sudden victory, while he defeated Abounader 3-1. Nickal, with very few exceptions, does not have low scoring matches. Last season, he went to decision six times. In those six matches there was an average of 12.5 combined points. Even in the one match he lost, there were ten points on the scoreboard. If Preisch tries to squeak out a close match, he might end up struggling.
Prediction: Nickal (Penn State) maj. dec. Preisch (Lehigh)
197: No. 11 Anthony Cassar (Penn State) vs. Jake Jakobsen (Lehigh)
After defeating Matt McCutcheon at the Keystone Classic, it appears that Cassar has locked down the 197 spot for the Nittany Lions. In the second dual of the season, he surprisingly dropped a match against Garrett Hoffman (Bucknell), but he bounced back a week later for his first win over a ranked opponent when he took home a decision victor over No. 12 Frank Mattiace (Penn).
Jakobsen has started the season 4-2, but his losses have come against Andrew Marsden (Oklahoma State) and No. 3 Jared Haught (Virginia Tech). He used last season as a redshirt season and went 10-5 in open tournaments.
The 197-pound weight class being up in the air for Penn State somewhat belies the fact that Cassar is an extremely talented wrestler. He has not really been able to show it so far in his career due to injuries. However, with the starting spot nailed down, he should get a chance to flourish in matches like this.
Prediction: Cassar (Penn State) dec. Jakobsen (Lehigh)
285: No. 3 Nick Nevills (Penn State) vs. No. 14 Jordan Wood (Lehigh)
Nevills, much like Cassar, has also been held back by injuries. However, he was still able to finish 5th at the NCAA tournament last year and become an All-American. He has started this year off incredibly well. He defeated No. 4 Tanner Hall (Arizona State) at the NWCA All-Star Classic and then bested No. 6 Jacob Kasper (Duke) at the Keystone Classic.
Wood has already wrestled four ranked wrestlers this year. He defeated No. 15 Thomas Haines (Lock Haven) and No. 17 Brett Dempsey (American), while he lost matches against No. 11 Derek White (Oklahoma State) and No. 2 Adam Coon (Michigan). Last year during his redshirt year, he reached the finals of the Midlands Tournament before losing to Hall.
Nevills already appears to have made strides from last season. There is clearly a limit on how high he can rise in the division (the limit is named Kyle Snyder). However, he should be able to continue to show that improvement in this match.
Prediction: Nevills (Penn State) dec. Wood (Lehigh)
Dual Meet Prediction: Penn State 31, Lehigh 7