Coaches open to renewing Pitt/Penn State wrestling rivalry
If Penn State calls about renewing its wrestling rivalry with Pitt, Keith Gavin will be happy to answer the phone.
“Yeah, I’m good with that,” Pitt’s coach said Wednesday when asked if he would like to schedule Penn State in the future.
But Gavin also knows it’s easier from his perspective than from Penn State’s.
“They have it tougher just because of the Big Ten schedule,” he said.
Every school in the Big Ten sponsors wrestling, but Pitt and only five other ACC schools have teams.
“Our schedule is a little easier to work out,” he said.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, whose team has won seven of the past eight national championships, said there has been talk about scheduling Pitt.
“It’s not (out of) any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Added Gavin: “I’m sure it will happen again.”
Penn State has wrestled only three other schools — Lehigh (106 times), Navy (85) and Cornell (70) — more often than Pitt (69). Penn State leads the series, 55-11-3.
They first met in 1914, but they haven’t wrestled each other since Penn State won 24-12 during the 2014-15 season. Penn State is 7-0-1 against Pitt since the Panthers’ most recent victory, 18-12 in 2002.
Who’s on first?
Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal will wrestle the last matches of their decorated Penn State careers this weekend. From there, perhaps they’ll go on tour for comedy.
The two-time NCAA champions were two of five top-seeded wrestlers to appear at a news conference Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena, and they turned the roughly half-hour session into their personal Abbott-and-Costello routine.
Nolf and Nickal, the top seeds at 157 and 197 pounds, begin the week as two of the favorites to win the Hodge Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate wrestler. The topic was broached during the news conference.
“What is that?” Nickal said, feigning confusion. “What are you talking about? Oh, the Hodge Trophy. Yeah, I’ve heard of that. But no, I don’t think there’s any friendly competition. We’re both just out there trying to do our best. Me, at least. I don’t know about (Nolf).”
Answered Nolf, dryly: “It’s all we talk about.”
Later, as Nickal answered a question, Nolf, sitting directly to his left, began speaking into his own microphone.
Finally, they discussed Nolf’s status as Penn State’s all-time pins leader (59): He ranks three ahead of Nickal entering the tournament.
“I would need at least probably five (to stay ahead),” Nolf said.
Said Nickal: “Well, I have five matches, and he’s only up three. So if he gets five, and I get five … I’m not very good at math.”
No love for blueberry waffles
Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis scored his first takedown of the tournament before his first match even began.
The sophomore, the defending champion and top seed at 141 pounds, fielded the oddest question:
What is his stance on blueberry waffles, and how do they rank among his favorite breakfasts?
“I mean, pancakes are better than waffles,” Diakomihalis said to laughter. “And if I was going to have a pancake or a waffle, I would rather have it have chocolate or peanut butter on it.”
“And it’s a stupid question,” he said, to more laughter.
Beware the underdog
For all the focus on the No. 1 seeds at the NCAA Tournament, sometimes danger lies in unknown wrestlers.
Look no further than the 2018 tournament, when Kent State’s Kyle Conel went from unseeded to the third-place finisher at 197 pounds. He beat Ohio State’s Kollin Miller, the top seed, twice during his run, including a stunning pin in the first round.
“As soon as these guys qualified, it’s what we talked about,” Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said. “The guys in the middle of the bracket that (on the surface) aren’t going to be a big part of it, but you can always be a part of it if you get hot at the right time. You can’t really look at seeds. You’ve just got to take it one match at a time. Somebody’s going to get upset somewhere.”
Conel, who missed much of the season with an injury, earlier this week tweeted an intention to transfer to Penn State next season if he gets a medical redshirt.
Dropout at 285
When Buffalo’s Jake Gunning, the No. 23 seed at 285 pounds, withdrew Wednesday, it elevated Purdue’s Jacob Aven, previously an alternate, to the 33rd and final seed and a preliminary match against West Virginia’s Brandon Ngati.
Each wrestler previously seeded 24th through 33rd moves up one line. As a result, No. 2 seed Anthony Cassar of Penn State gets a different first-round opponent, No. 31 Antonio Pelusi of Franklin & Marshall. Pitt’s Demetrius Thomas, No. 8, will now wrestle the new No. 25, Gannon Gremmel of Iowa State.
Steelers fan in Ohio
Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said he grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. “My brother was a Cowboy fan, so I loved making fun of him,” he said.
His current ties to the area can be traced to three of his wrestlers who are competing this weekend: Latrobe’s Luke Pletcher (133 pounds) and Ethan Smith (174) and Penn Hills’ Te’Shan Campbell (165).
“It’s good for those guys to have an opportunity to compete in the home area,” he said.