Penn State was without four of its top wrestlers - Nico Megaludis (125 pounds), Dylan Alton (157), David Taylor (165) and Quentin Wright (197), who are set to compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic Saturday - when it rolled out the mats for its annual intrasquad scrimmage Thursday night.
But nearly 2,000 people still shuffled into Rec Hall, hoping to catch at least a glimpse of the two-time national champion Nittany Lions. Plus, they still got to see national champion Ed Ruth, who has bumped up to 184, in action, two roster-influencing wrestle-offs and a sneak-peek of the team's newest members.
"It was exciting, but I was pretty nervous coming into the very start of the match," said freshman Jimmy Gulibon, a Latrobe, Pa., native who was Cael Sanderson's top recruit a year ago. "But as the match progressed I felt a lot better and I was feeling pretty good. It was pretty sweet."
If the 133-pounder was nervous, it certainly didn't show with his performance against teammate Cam Kelly. Gulibon stormed out of the gates, racking up two takedowns and 1:12 riding time in the first period alone. He kept the momentum through the last two periods and walked away with a 13-5 major decision. Afterward, Sanderson revealed that the plan is to redshirt Gulibon this season.
Best Performance - Gulibon is set to redshirt because Jordan Conaway, a redshirt freshman, will start the season at 133 pounds. With the starting spot on the line against teammate Frank Martellotti, Conway countered Martellotti's first-period shot attempt to pick up the first takedown. Then he didn't look back as he tallied another takedown and an escape, cruising to a 5-1 victory over Martellotti, a national qualifier at 133 a year ago.
Most Anticipated Match - Wrestling followers have been eagerly waiting to see Jimmy Lawson in action since he announced his transfer to Penn State last March and they got it Thursday night.
Battling Bald Eagle Area graduate Jon Gingrich for the starting spot at 285, Lawson needed a victory after falling to Gingrich, 2-1, in the first wrestle-off earlier in the week.
After tying the score in the third period, Lawson sprawled away from an aggressive Gingrich takedown attempt and spun behind him for the bout's first takedown. Gingrich quickly escaped and nearly countered with a takedown of his own, but time expired. Lawson's 3-2 victory means the pair will have their final wrestle-off as early as this weekend, Sanderson said, to determine the season-opening starter at 285 pounds.
Best Move - Ruth, a two-time All-American, drew freshman Wes Phipps for the 184-pound bout. While Ruth already had the starting spot locked up - he is ranked No. 1 in the country - the match provided a chance to see Phipps, a Pennsylvania state champion, against the country's best.
Ruth waltzed to the technical fall victory, but at one point when Phipps was on bottom, he escaped Ruth's control using a mix of a gramby/T-neck/summersault. It was quite the impressive move that even drew an impressed smile from Ruth, which, of course, drew a laugh from the fans.
Biggest Surprise - It's got to be Conaway. Martellotti was a national qualifier last season, while Conaway was buried in the depths of 125-pounds. But the native of Abbottstwon, Pa., appears to be physically ready to take the reigns.
Did you notice? - Andrew Alton was not in the lineup tonight. He's expected to be the starter at 149 this season after using his redshirt last year, but an unspecified injury kept him from participating. Sanderson wouldn't reveal the extent of the injury, or even what it was, but he said if it was the national tournament, Alton would be wrestling.