Lion Lineup Nearly Set

Cael Sanderson

With the wrestling opener drawing near, Cael Sanderson's two-time defending national champs are nearly ready for action.

With a little more than a week to go until Penn State opens its 2012-13 wrestling season with Lehigh at Rec Hal Nov. 16, the two-time defending champ Nittany Lions have, for the most part, set their lineup.

A wrestle-off at heavyweight and figuring out an injury situation at 149 pounds is all that's left for head coach Cael Sanderson.

Sanderson opened the wrestling room for 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon, giving a brief glimpse into where the Nittany Lions are as they prepare to embark on their championship defense.

Alton Close: Andrew Alton didn't wrestle at 149-pounds during Penn State's Intrasquad scrimmage last week, as the sophomore continues to rehab a leg injury. That said, Alton said he's close to returning to action, and appears to be penciled into the 149-pound spot as soon as he's ready for action. “It's all up to the coaches at this point, and I'm just trying to get healthy right now,” Alton said when asked about his likelihood to wrestle against Lehigh. “I'd say I'm at 99 percent right now.” Sanderson wasn't interested in setting a target date for Alton's return. “We're not really going to place a time table on it. He could be ready tomorrow or Friday, we're just not really sure yet,” Sanderson said.

English in the Wings: Fifth-year senior James English missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but with Alton ailing and his shoulder fully healed, English will likely be the man called to the circle if Alton is unable to wrestle. The 2011 University Nationals freestyle champ at 70 kg says he will be ready if needed. “I don't look at it as I'm number two. I think it's anyone's' spot until we have the wrestle off,” English said. “But no matter who is out there, whether it's me or Andrew, it's going to have someone with the same goal, and that's to be a national champ.” English's injury was a unique one that continued to worsen, forcing a lengthier time than normal to get back on the mat. “I hurt my shoulder gradually over time, and ended up getting surgery in December,” English said. “It ended up being two or three things that they needed to do surgery on, so I had to rehab religiously every day, and finally got back on the mat in June. I competed for the first time in over a year in a freestyle tournament in August at the University World Team trials.”

Wright Learns from All-Star Match: 197-pound senior Quentin Wright dropped his NWCA All-Star match to Pittsburgh's Matt Wilps by fall last weekend. But in a match that didn't count toward his or Wilps' season record, the experience is what counts to Wright. “I need to keep getting better, and I need to execute some things better,” Wright said. “I need to fix the little things that cost me points, and keep working on in-season conditioning for the Lehigh match.” Wright also found the match to be a boon that not many of his opponents will have before the season starts. “I think it's a huge aide because a lot of your moves don't work in the room because these guys see it every day,” Wright said. “But when you get out there against one of the top guys in the country, it was fun to get out there and try things. normally I wouldn't try. But it was a good thing to see what works and what didn't.” The senior also got a look at what the landscape will be like at 197 pounds this season as opposed to the 184 pounds he worked at a season ago. “I found out guys are coming out a little bit stronger than what I realized, and it's not that they're stronger than me, but the way they wrestle and the position is a little bit different,” Wright said. “It's mostly technique. Before I was able to power through moves, but now I have to do technique a little bit better.”

Lawson, Gingrich Awaiting Wrestle-off: Sophomore Jimmy Lawson and classmate Jon Gingrich are 1-1 against each other in wrestle-offs to determine the Nittany Lions' starter at 285-pounds, and the rubber match to determine the spot has yet to happen. “We haven't wrestled off yet. The coaches will let us know when they want to have it, but we're working on getting better every day,” Lawson said. Sanderson expounded more on the heavyweight competition: “They're both great athletes and very strong. If you grab Gingrich in the room, he's made of iron, and if you put Lawson in the weight room, that guy can move some weight around,” Sanderson said. “I was happy with both of the guys in the second match, because they both took shots. Both can win, and both have a lot of upside.”

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