Update: 12:15 p.m.
Penn State announced today that it will wrestle this weekend after all. The Lions’ match scheduled for Friday against Iowa was postponed because of COVID in the Hawkeyes’ program, so PSU was able to reschedule to take on Michigan on Sunday.
We discussed this very possibility, and the Iowa postponement plus other topics, in our weekly podcast with Andy Stine on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on WRTA in Altoona.
This abbreviated wrestling season that started last month is only 23 days away from the start of the postseason with the Big Ten Tournament. Since then, Penn State has had more dual meets postponed than it has actually wrestled.
The latest postponement with Iowa, which was supposed to be wrestled tomorrow night as the Nittany Lions’ home opener, has easily been the biggest disappointment out of all of them. Iowa’s wrestling program has been put on pause due to COVID issues, just like Penn State earlier this season.
It’s not often that Penn State’s wrestling program can refer to any dual meet as a “measuring stick” competition, but that’s exactly what Friday against Iowa would have been. As far as anyone can see so far this season, the Hawkeyes are so overwhelming from top to bottom through the starting lineup.
That’s not to say that Penn State would not have won any of the bouts. The Lions very likely would have won at least a couple matches. But as of right now, with not much season left to squeeze in regular season dual meets, it’s beginning to look increasingly probable that Iowa and Penn State won’t meet in this strange, unprecedented season.
And that’s a shame.
It’s even more scary that more of these postponements could happen. Numbers in the COVID-19 pandemic have improved over the last few weeks, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.
On Wednesday, Cael Sanderson talked about how Penn State’s athletic department is now trying to work out a way for the Big Ten Championships to still be held in the Bryce Jordan Center. The issue at hand is Penn State can only have about 500 people in the BJC.
What if the Big Ten has to move the tournament elsewhere? What would that mean for Penn State? Would that mean they can still host the event sometime in the future? It’s all unclear, and there are no easy answers.
Penn State may not be wrestling Iowa this weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Lions have another weekend off. Sanderson said Wednesday that they may be able to reschedule with Michigan and Michigan State for a tri-meet this weekend.
A dual with top-ranked Iowa would have been the best possible event for this weekend, but a clash with Michigan might be the next best thing.
The Wolverines are coming off an athletic program-wide pause for two weeks that ended Sunday. Michigan is 3-0 on the season, but it hasn’t taken the mat since Jan. 17.
Penn State remains third in the InterMat rankings, while Michigan is ranked second. Michigan State is unranked, but the Spartans have improved with a 2-3 record this season.
Michigan has ranked wrestlers in all but one weight class, while the Spartans have three guys ranked.
If we can’t have a dual against Iowa, this would be a pretty good consolation prize if the tri-meet can be worked out. And it’s much better than having more than two weeks off before wrestling Ohio State next Friday.
All-American Lee to return next season
Senior Nick Lee announced this week that he’s planning to return for one more season next year. Lee is a three-time All-American at 141. The NCAA is allowing all athletes one more year of eligibility, should they want it.
“I think I’d be crazy not to (come back),” Lee said. “NCAA wrestling and Big Ten wrestling is something that people don’t get the opportunity to do. Just having another year to do it is a huge blessing.”
Starter out for the season
Sanderson said during Wednesday’s press conference that Ohio State transfer Greg Kerkvliet is not expected to be available to compete this season.
That’s a tough break for Penn State and its fans with the anticipated arrival of the heavyweight. Kerkvliet was 9-0 last season while redshirting.
Sanderson said that if he were available, he would be in the starting lineup. But all is not lost at heavyweight. If Kerkvliet is 1A at the weight, then Seth Nevills, who has got the start in the three dual meets, is 1B.
Nevills is ranked seventh at 285, and has done a phenomenal job as the starter this season. He will be fine come March for the postseason.
Once again, it’s a minor speed bump for the Nittany Lions, but it’s one that they should easily be able to navigate.
Olympic Trials moved
It was also announced this week that the U.S. Olympic Team Trials will not be held in the Bryce Jordan Center in April. The trials will still be held, hopefully still in early April, at another location to be determined.
However, Penn State will still be hosting the trials in 2024.
Obviously it isn’t ideal that the trials were pushed back from April 2020 to April 2021 because of the pandemic. And it’s a bummer that it won’t be held here this year.
But fans should be happy that it’s coming back in three years. There would not have been fans in the BJC had the event happened in State College in a couple months. Penn State expressed their desire of holding the event with fans to USA Wrestling, and the organization obliged to making that happen in the next go-around in 2024.
Good for everyone involved that the event will be held with a packed house in three years in one of the nation’s premier wrestling states.
Follow Andy Stine on Twitter @riseandstine