Whoever wrestles for Penn State at the 149-pound and 157-pound weight classes Sunday will be in for quite the challenge when No. 12 Nebraska comes to town.
No. 12 Jake Sueflohn (149) and No. 4 James Green (157) are part of a strong lineup for the Cornhuskers (9-3, 3-2 Big Ten), which features five ranked wrestlers. However, their opponents on the Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are still unclear.
No. 3 Andrew Altonand brother, No. 6 Dylan, each previously suspended for violating team rules in December, are eligible to get back on the mat for the Lions this weekend. However, neither has been given a free pass back into their old starting roles.
“We’re working through that now. We want to make something that’s fair for everybody,” coach Cael Sanderson said at practice Tuesday. “I couldn’t tell you exactly what we’re doing on that, so I don’t want to say too much.”
That uncertainty is partially because the Altons’ replacements, James English (149) and James Vollrath (157), have proven capable replacements thus far.
English placed third at the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of the month. In duals since then, he has gone 1-2, but nearly won in an overtime nail-biter on Jan. 18 against Wisconsin.
Vollrath has fared slightly better. A second-place finisher at the Scuffle, he defeated then-No. 19 David Cheza of Michigan State during the team’s first dual of the New Year and has not lost since.
The question of who would start at each weight had not yet been solved when the Lions’ possible starters were posted on GoPSUSports.com on Jan. 23, listing all four at their respective weights.
If English and Vollrath continue to wrestle, each said they look forward to the challenges that Sueflohn and Green bring.
“If I do get to go for Sunday I would love to compete, because [Green is] the No. 4 guy in my weight,” Vollrath said. “So I would love to see where I am, where I stand. But I know I can take him.”
English said that he has continued to work hard in practice so he is ready to wrestle on Sunday, should he remain in the starting role.
The rest of the Lions will also see some tough opponents. The Cornhuskers shape up to be the toughest conference foe Penn State has faced so far, and will help prepare them for a grueling road trip to No. 3 Iowa, No. 8 Illinois and No. 6 Ohio State.
Two weight classes are slated to showcase ranked wrestlers facing off with each other.
No. 3 Matt Brown’s counterpart this weekend at 174-pounds will be No. 4 Robert Kokesh. Following him at 184-pounds, No. 1 Ed Ruth will be tested by No. 8 Josh Ihnen.
Despite the challenges, Vollrath appeared confident in his team’s odds to stay undefeated.
“Nebraska’s good, but our team’s a beast, so I think we’ll have them pretty covered,” he said.