The big stage is set Friday as the defending National Champion Penn State Wrestling team comes to Ann Arbor. Michigan will host its first dual in Crisler Arena since 2002 to mark such an occasion. The match is this Friday, the 12th at 9pm. It will be live on the Big Ten Network, but I cannot wait to be there in person.
The occasion is not so much a welcome for Cael Sanderson's squad, but the fact that the #3 Michigan Wolverines are looking for the win. Their veteran squad and top to bottom strength makes this rude welcome possible albeit a very tall task.
Penn State slightly stumbled at the Big Ten tournament last year but went to St Louis and claimed five National Champions and the second highest point total in history. However, the injury bug and a notable transfer has made them susceptible in the lower weights.
This dual has basically become considered the #2 vs #3 and providing some incredible top match-ups. Penn State's five returning champions start at 149 with strength all the way to heavyweight. Michigan is loaded from 157 up for their heart of their lineup so no matter how the dual score shakes out, there will be plenty of individual matches to take stock in.
Joe McFarland's squad should start strong. Penn State has struggled at 125 and freshman Drew Mattin should have the Wolverines striking first. Corey Keener transferred to Penn State from Central Michigan for his 5th year, but will be an underdog to Stevan Micic, who won their match in February 16-6. At 141, Cortez vs Profaci would be a pretty good match but Cortez appeared to suffer a serious injury at the Southern Scuffle. Unless Cael is ready to pull Nick Lee's redshirt, Profaci could give the hosts their third win to start the dual.
In the arena that made "Fab 5" legends, 149 starts the five straight defending Penn State National Champions with defending Hodge trophy winner, Zain Retherford. He is a machine that produces bonus points at a clip at historic levels.
Probably the most anticipated match is at 157. Jason Nolf lost two matches his freshman year to eventual champion Isiah Martinez (Illinois) and since then nobody in the college ranks has touched him. Up a weight after a redshirt year, Alec Pantaleo steps in to hopefully change that. They wrestled at the US Open this summer and it was competitive with Nolf pulling away late. Seeing Nolf in a competitive college match is something we haven't seen in a long time so Friday night may be interesting.
Michigan's Logan Massa dropped his semi-final to Vincenzo Joseph 5-4 which was considered a mild upset. Massa would love revenge, but an injury in Vegas makes it unlikely we will see him.
At 174, sophomore phenom Mark Hall grew up in Davison before the 6th grade making this a sort of homecoming. It's odd that Hall and Michigan's Myles Amine did not face each other last year considering they took 2nd & 3rd at the Big Ten tournament and then 1st & 4th at NCAA's.
At 184, it's another match that has yet to happen before. Bo Nickal moved up to 184 for his sophomore year and won his first National Championship. Dominic Abounader is coming off a redshirt year ranked 5th in the country. He slows people down and works great on top, but the wide open Nickal rarely stumbles.
197 has been very interesting on both sides this season. The Detroit native, Kevin Beazley, came home to Michigan for his last year of eligibility after a an All-American finish at Old Dominion. Penn State has three guys thought to be their starter at different parts of the early season. It will either be Cassar or Rasheed on Friday who are both very quick and athletic big guys. Beazley loves the big moves and in the last three duals he got pins in the first period.
This dual features an abundance of star power and heavyweight/aspiring astronaut Adam Coon is no different. The big man is incredibly athletic for a man his size and always pressing the pace. Penn State's counter is no slouch. Nick Nevills took 3rd at last year's NCAA's and will look to give Coon his first loss of the season. It is another match where these two have surprisingly not wrestled in college.
This is one of the most anticipated duals of the season, and I cannot wait to see it in person!