Every team has dates circled on its calendar of matches to look forward to throughout a season, and two of those dates arrive this weekend for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) will travel to Iowa to take on the No. 3 Hawkeyes (15-1, 5-0 Big Ten) on Friday for a dual that Iowa head coach Tom Brands called "the big one" in his weekly press conference Tuesday. The Lions will then turn around and head to Illinois for a contest against the No. 6 Fighting Illini (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) on Sunday.
Much of the focus around Penn State's road trip is centered on Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The bowl-shaped facility can hold 15,000 and is know for its hostile crowds.
Although some Lions wrestled in Carver-Hawkeye for the 2012 Olympic Trials, senior Bryan Pearsall is the only starter who has wrestled in the facility for Penn State in a dual meet. Pearsall wrestled at Carver-Hawkeye during the 2009-2010 campaign in which the Hawkeyes downed the Lions, 29-6, en route to a national championship.
Pearsall said the key to quieting the Carver-Hawkeye crowd is to go out and dominate the Hawkeyes because the fans will not have much to talk about if they are getting beaten.
"I tell them to be ready for a hostile crowd and be ready for a dog fight," Pearsall said. "Some of their fans aren't as polite as ours. I'll put it as simple as that."
Pearsall compared the atmosphere of Carver-Hawkeye as the equivalent to if the Lions were to wrestle in the Bryce Jordan Center. He said he feels like the fans are piled on top of the wrestlers during the duals at Rec Hall, but not at Carver-Hawkeye.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Conaway, who has never wrestled or been to Carver-Hawkeye, said it is going to be different wrestling in an environment where there will be no cheers for his takedowns, rather boos. He will be playing the "bad guy" role.
Sophomore Nico Megaludis is embracing the adversity and described 15,000 people booing him as "awesome."
The match against the Hawkeyes provides Megaludis, currently ranked by Intermat as the No. 2 125-pound wrestler, a chance at redemption. During last year's NCAA Championships, Megaludis was one win away from running the table as the No. 10-seed, but fell short against Iowa's No. 1-seeded Matt McDonough in the championship bout.
Megaludis said he is going to treat the rematch against McDonough like any other. But he has been looking forward to it ever since the loss and knows the 5-foot-7, No. 1 125-pound wrestler's strengths by now.
"He's tall, lanky. He's one of the bigger 25's," Megaludis said. "He's dangerous. When you get to his legs, he does some interesting stuff there. He has a long reach for his shot, so he's good at finishing them."
Megaludis said it is going to be a fight and it will come down to who is more mentally tough.
Brands also highlighted the fight in his team as a key for his squad and referenced Penn State's 22-12 dual victory at Rec Hall last year.
"Ed Ruth threw a saddle, literally, on top of Ethen Lofthouse and rode him like a horse and we laid underneath him and we cannot do that," Brands said. "There can be no period like that in the entire dual meet in 10 matches that are going to be contested where we just kind of take it."
Brands said his wrestlers want to make statements punctuated by exclamation marks in each of their matches.
While much of the focus is on the Iowa dual, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said he is glad the Lions get a chance to wrestle in Illinois to see more formidable opponents and to compete at the site of this year's Big Ten tournament in March.
Illinois head coach Jim Heffernan said he is expecting everything the two-time defending national champion lineup has to offer this weekend.
"Going into the Big Ten's, even going into the dual meet, we know what Penn State has. I think everybody in the country knows what Penn State has in terms of firepower for the postseason," Heffernan said. "They're not going to sneak up on anybody and there's going to be no surprises."