With only two dual meets remaining in the regular season, Penn State's post-season lineup is finally taking shape.
Throughout the year, 149 pounds has been the weight class under the most scrutiny. Returning starter Andrew Alton, a redshirt junior, underwent off-season shoulder surgery and has yet to return to full health, while redshirt senior James English began the season as the starter but has battled a variety of injuries as well.
That leaves redshirt freshman Zack Beitz, who began the season at 141 but has since made a splash at 149, building an 11-8 record and a ranking within the top 20. Before Penn State's dual meet vs. Minnesota Sunday, head coach Cael Sanderson told Jeff Byers of the Penn State Sports Network that Beitz is their "guy" at 149.
Asked Tuesday if that was a confirmation that Beitz would be the post-season starter, Sanderson said, "That's what it is looking like."
"Right now it looks like he's our most consistent (option)," Sanderson added. "He's healthy where the other two are not necessarily 100 percent. When you need points there, it's hard to count on that."
Beitz was asked what he thought of being named the 149-pound starter. "I'm just focused on one thing," he replied, "and that is getting better."
Sanderson has seen significant improvement from Beitz since jumping up a weight class at the beginning of the season, and he has continued to see progress each outing.
"He still makes a lot of freshman mistakes, but he makes up for them in hustle so you see great potential in him," he said. "More than anything he wrestles hard and he goes for it."
Fleeing the mat controversy at Minnesota
Beitz's 149-pound matchup vs. third-ranked Nick Dardanes of Minnesota also came under scrutiny after the dual meet -- an 18-17 loss for Penn State.
During the third period, with a 3-2 lead, Beitz was called for fleeing the mat. As a result, Dardanes was erroneously awarded a penalty point which tied the match and forced it into overtime. Dardanes went onto win, 7-6.
According to the rulebook, fleeing the mat should be called as a stall warning. And since Beitz had not yet been hit for stalling, it should not have resulted in a point. Referee Mike McCormick admitted the mistake after the bout.
"We talked right after the match after the next break," Sanderson said. "He made a mistake and I made mistake."
Sanderson challenged the call, but it was upheld. Sanderson did not specifically ask McCormick to review the rulebook. Instead, he said, "I just wanted him to look at the (instant replay)."
"It wasn't the correct call per the rulebook," Sanderson added. "The official knows that and I think he feels pretty bad about it. I didn't obviously do a very good job of talking to him, but more than anything it's tough for Zack."
Sanderson went on to say that McCormick is "maybe the best official in the country. I always feel really comfortable with him."
Oklahoma State visits Sunday. PSU to return the favor in 2015
Perhaps the most anticipated home matchup of the season takes place Sunday afternoon in Rec Hall between Oklahoma State and the Nittany Lions. As two of the top four teams in the country, Sanderson called it "a big dual." But he said there is more at stake than simply an out-of-conference dual meet.
"They also have a huge history in recruiting Pennsylvania kids," Sanderson said. "They've always picked up the top PA kids and obviously the kids here think highly of the wrestling program (at Oklahoma State.) There's a long history of support there."
Sanderson confirmed Tuesday that Penn State will make a return trip to Oklahoma State during the 2014-15 season.
Injury update on Lawson
There is hope that redshirt junior heavyweight Jimmy Lawson can resume live wrestling this week in practice. Sanderson said that he wants Lawson to compete in at least one match before he returns to action in the Big Ten tournament. As of Tuesday, Lawson has not wrestled live since injuring his knee Jan. 19.
After Sunday's match vs. the Cowboys, Penn State has only one dual meet (Clarion, Feb. 23) remaining in the 2013-14 season.