The battle for the 285 starting spot has been contested all year, but with six-straight Big Ten dual matches staring Cael Sanderson down, the head coach is inching closer to a decision.
The fight all year has been between sophomores Jon Gingrich and Jimmy Lawson, but fellow sophomore Nick Ruggear has recently inserted his name back into the mix.
Gingrich went 21-4 in his redshirt freshman year last season and Lawson is in his first of three wrestling eligibility years after he played two seasons of football at Monmouth. Ruggear, who battled injury this year, was the 197 starter two years ago in his true freshman campaign and redshirted last season.
Sanderson said after the Nittany Lions’ 42-3 victory over Lock Haven on Dec. 15, 2012 that the team’s trip to Chattanooga, Tenn. for the Southern Scuffle tournament Jan. 1 and 2 would be a big deal in determining the heavyweight starter.
Although now one week removed from the Scuffle, Sanderson was not ready to name the 285 starter Tuesday, but he said the team will get the battle a little more concrete this week.
“[It’s] not as clear as you’d want it to be, but there’s a lot of similarities in there,” Sanderson said. “We’re going to finalize that spot here probably this week and move forward.”
Ruggear saw his first action of the year at the Southern Scuffle while both Gingrich and Lawson have wrestled in 15 matches with Gingrich posting an 11-4 record and Lawson earning a 12-3 mark.
Gingrich and Lawson both lost in the quarterfinals of the Southern Scuffle and Ruggear lost a round before that. Ruggear picked up a win in the consolation bracket against Cody Davis of Air Force before losing to Navy’s Daniel Miller. Lawson knocked off Miller and then lost to Ohio’s Jeremy Johnson, who beat Gingrich the round prior.
Had Gingrich and Lawson advanced to the semifinals, they would have taken on one another and both Gingrich and Ruggear were one victory away from taking on Lawson in the consolation bracket.
Lawson described the Scuffle as a great experience and said he was focusing on the opponent at hand instead of if he would meet a teammate or not.
“We all ran into tough opponents and I didn’t really finish or have the match against them like I wanted to,” Lawson said. “The only thing that matters is what you do in March. All this other stuff is just a learning curve and that’s the good thing about it.”
Lawson said a positive to the position battle is that the wrestlers are giving it their all because they know the person behind them could be in front of them also. He also said the competition for the 285 spot has gotten him ready for Division I wrestling quickly and helped Gingrich improve from last year.
Lawson described Ruggear as a “change of pace” wrestler who takes a lot of shots because he used to compete in the 197-weight class, while Lawson characterized Gingrich as an upper-body wrestler.
“Our room gets very competitive,” Lawson said after the Lock Haven dual. “That’s good because I think all three of us could start on any other team.”
Lawson said the decision is left up to the coaches and he’s working on improving every day.
Sanderson would not say if there would be a “wrestle-off” for the starting position, but when he was asked if he would bring an outside referee in for the potential match, he joked, “well, I don’t want to ref it.”