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March 4, 2014

PSU Wrestling preps for B1G Championships

With two newly named starters in the lineup, Penn State travels to Madison (Wis.) this weekend with hopes of claiming its fourth-straight Big Ten Tournament championship -- a feat never accomplished in school history.

Head coach Cael Sanderson, however, isn't necessarily fixated on writing another school record. As always, he's looking ahead to the national tournament (March 20-22) in Oklahoma City, Okla., and he says a strong performance in Wisconsin's Kohl Center Saturday (action begins at 11 a.m.) and Sunday (finals air on Big Ten Network at 2:00 p.m.) can provide a boost for their NCAA tournament aspirations.

"I think our guys are ready to go," Sanderson said. "This is obviously a huge weekend for us, but it's an even bigger weekend two weeks later. To have the opportunity at nationals, you have to have a good weekend (at Big Tens.) We have to move all our guys through and set them up with as good as seeds as possible."

Six of Penn State's 10 Big Ten wrestlers have been to the tournament before, but the rest are newcomers to the grind of a college wrestling postseason. 133-pound Jimmy Gulibon and 141-pound Zain Retherford are both freshman, while upperclassmen 149-pound James English and 285-pound Jon Gingrich secured starting spots late in the season.

English has been in the program for six years. He has battled various injuries since high school, and although he has been able to secure the starting spot, he said, "I haven't been 100 percent all six years that I've been here, but I'm good enough. I'm ready to go now."

English recently won wrestle-offs against redshirt freshman Zack Beitz, who went 11-9 on the year as a spot starter, and last year's 149-pound NCAA qualifier Andrew Alton, who will require shoulder surgery for the second consecutive off-season. Sanderson called the 149-weight class "a very unusual situation. We had three guys who we're very confident in."

But the staff has the most confidence if English.

"He had a lot on his pate this year, but he's just resilient and determined," said Sanderson. "If things end the way he's planning on them ending, I think you'll have a nice script for a movie."

At heavyweight, Gingrich said he is "definitely" excited for his postseason opportunity after the staff chose Jimmy Lawson as the postseason 285-pounder last season -- despite Gingrich winning two of three wrestle-offs.

This year, Lawson went down with a knee injury at the end of January. He tried making a return for the Nittany Lions' final dual meet vs. Clarion Feb. 23, but he lost the match and reportedly is not healthy enough for a postseason run.

"Gingrich is healthy and they have been very close," Sanderson said. "In the past we've been happy with Lawson and the progress that he's made. We really thought he was doing a great job. But that's life sometimes; things happen. He was injured in the Northwestern match and he's going to need a little bit more time."

Sanderson added that Gingrich has "some really good counter offense and he's got a great double leg that he (uses.) He is a real strong kid and a real good athlete. He's just a pure athlete, I'd say. He just has to match it with the right attitude. He's not a guy you can take for granted if you're drawing him -- whether you're the returning national champ or the three or four seed."

Although the seeds aren't finalized until Friday, the conference announced the pre-seeds Monday. Here's a sneak peek with a few additional quotes:

125: Nico Megaludis Jr. Murrysville, Pa./Franklin Regional 23-2
Final RPI: No. 2 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 2

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 7

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Nico Megaludis, PSU
2. Jesse Delgado, ILL
3. Cory Clark, IOWA
4. Bradley Taylor, WIS
5. Conor Youtsey, MICH
6. Tim Lambert, NEB
7. Camden Eppert, PUR
8. Nick Roberts, OSU

133: Jimmy Gulibon Fr. Latrobe, Pa./Derry Area 14-11
Final RPI: No. 12 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 15

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 8

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Tony Ramos, IOWA
2. Tyler Graff, WIS
3. David Thorn, MINN
4. Cashe Quiroga, PUR
5. Zane Richards, ILL
6. Johnni DiJulius, OSU
7. Jimmy Gulibon, PSU
8. Rossi Bruno, MICH
9. Shawn Nagel, NEB
10. Dom Malone, NU
11. Joe Duca, IND
12. Garth Yenter, MSU

"The bottom is a big deal for (Gulibon). In most of the matches that he's been beaten, it's because he's been ridden. But the last tournament he was in, he wrestled well. Now all we have left is tournament settings so I think Jimmy is going to wrestle well going into Big Tens and nationals." -- Cael Sanderson

141: Zain Retherford Fr. Benton, Pa./Benton 26-0
Final RPI: No. 1 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 2

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 6

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Zain Retherford, PSU
2. Logan Stieber, OSU
3. Chris Dardanes, MINN
4. Stephen Dutton, MICH
5. Josh Dziewa, IOWA
6. Steven Rodrigues, ILL
7. Danny Sabatello, PUR
8. Jessie Thielke, WIS

"A lot has happened between now and then (since Retherford beat Stieber on Dec 15.) Zain is continuing to improve, but I expect we'll see a stronger Stieber out there was well. Zain has one of those mentalities -- thank his parents-- that he loves to compete and he comes to practice to get better everyday and he wrestles to win." -- Cael Sanderson

149: James English Sr. York, Pa./Central York 8-3
Final RPI: NR Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 26

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 6

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Jake Sueflohn, NEB
2. Nick Dardanes, MINN
3. Jason Tsirtsis, NU
4. Brody Grothus, IOWA
5. Eric Grajales, MICH
6. Ian Paddock, OSU
7. James English, PSU
8. Brandon Nelsen, PUR

"I knew I wasn't going to get a good seed. The way I see it no one wants to wrestle me. I'm the most dangerous low seed. My goal is to win the tournament so it doesn't really matter if I'm wresting the best first or the worst guy first. You'll have to beat the best eventually." -- James English

157: Dylan Alton Jr. Mill Hall, Pa./Central Mountain 16-2
Final RPI: No. 6 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 11

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 8

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Isaac Jordan, WIS
2. James Green, NEB
3. Dylan Ness, MINN
4. Derek St. John, IOWA
5. Dylan Alton, PSU
6. Taylor Walsh, IND
7. Zac Brunson, ILL
8. Brian Murphy, MICH
9. Alex Griffin, PUR
10. Ben Sullivan, NU
11. Randy Languis, OSU
12. Roger Wildmo, MSU

"I feel 100 percent better (than when he returned to action in January). There's more movement in my shoulder, there not so much of a tweak in it, just the soreness in there (is gone). Right now I'm healthy and ready to go." -- Dylan Alton

165: David Taylor Sr. St. Paris, Ohio/St. Paris Graham 26-0
Final RPI: No. 1 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 1

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 8

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. David Taylor, PSU
2. Nick Moore, IOWA
3. Pierce Harger, NU
4. Dan Yates, MICH
5. Jackson Morse, ILL
6. Danny Zilverberg, MINN
7. Ryan LeBlanc, IND
8. Austin Wilson, NEB
9. Pat Robinson, PUR
10. Joe Grandominico, OSU
11. Bobby Nash, MSU
12. Ben Cox, WIS

174: Matt Brown Jr. West Valley City, Utah/Cyprus 24-3
Final RPI: No. 5 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 5

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 7

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Robert Kokesh, NEB
2. Matt Brown, PSU
3. Mike Evans, IOWA
4. Logan Storley, MINN
5. Tony Dallago, ILL
6. Mark Martin, OSU
7. Scott Liegel, WIS
8. Collin Zeerip, MICH

184: Ed Ruth Sr. Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Township 25-1
Final RPI: No. 3 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 2

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 7

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Ed Ruth, PSU
2. Kevin Steinhaus, MINN
3. Ethen Lofthouse, IOWA
4. TJ Dudley, NEB
5. Domenic Abounader, MICH
6. Kenny Courts, OSU
7. Jackson Hein, WIS
8. John Rizqallah, MSU

"I just want to make sure everything is cool. When you go into a tournament with so much on your mind, you try so hard and compete so hard and if you get injured, you can ruin your chances at nationals. So I just wanna walk away feeling fresh and healthy still. Probably not fresh, though, I'll probably be pretty tired. That's really hard (not to do in the Big Ten.)" -- Ed Ruth

197: Morgan McIntosh So. Santa Ana, Calif./Calvary Chapel 25-2
McIntosh's Final RPI: No. 2 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 3

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 8

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Morgan McIntosh, PSU
2. Nick Heflin, OSU
3. Scott Schiller, MINN
4. Braden Atwood, PUR
5. Nathan Burak, IOWA
6. Mario Gonzalez, ILL
7. Alex Polizzi, NU
8. Timmy McCall, WIS
9. Nick McDiarmid, MSU
10. Caleb Kolb, NEB
11. Chris Heald, MICH
12. Garret Goldman, IND

285: Jon Gingrich Jr. Wingate, Pa./Bald Eagle Area 20-5
Final RPI: No. 12 Final Coaches Poll Individual Rank: No. 14

NCAA Qualifier Allocation: 9

Big Ten Pre-seeds

1. Adam Coon, MICH
2. Adam Chalfant, IND
3. Mike McMullan, NU
4. Bobby Telford, IOWA
5. Tony Nelson, MINN
6. Mike McClure, MSU
7. Connor Medbery, WIS
8. Jon Gingrich, PSU
9. Collin Jensen, NEB
10. Nick Tavanello, OSU
11. Alex White, PUR
12. Chris Lopez, ILL

"I haven't looked at the seeds. I honestly took away my Facebook and social media so I don't have to worry about it. I haven't been on Twitter or anything like that. I'm just focused on what I need to do." -- Jon Gingrich

Coaches Poll and RPI are official NCAA as of Feb. 27

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