As it turns out, even a “wrestle-off” cannot solve every position battle.
On Jan. 13, Jon Gingrich was given the starting job at heavyweight after defeating Jimmy Lawson in the competition that has since been used to decide the 149- and 157-pound weight classes. But in the week of practice leading up to Penn State’s (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) final home dual meet of the regular season, that position is again in question.
The top-ranked Nittany Lions wrestle the Rider Broncos (10-6, 3-2 CAA) on Sunday at Rec Hall, but Lawson said at the team’s practice on Tuesday that he was not sure whether he or Gingrich would be competing. Lawson also said the past weekend’s duals were also game-time decisions between Gingrich and him.
“Coach [Cael Sanderson] tells us to be ready no matter what, it’s either you or the other guy,” Lawson said. “Either way, I was working out, getting ready and prepared just as if I was wrestling, and he was doing the same.
“You just got to go out there with the mentality where you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Lawson has wrestled at heavyweight in the team’s last three duals. He re-gained the starting role — at least temporarily — when Gingrich was sick and sat out of the Lions’ 37-0 shutout of Illinois on Feb. 3.
One thing Lawson said he has improved on is his attitude entering matches. Rather than feeling like he is wrestling for the starting job, he said he is simply focused on his opponent.
“That’s a mistake I made earlier in the season, going into the matches with that mindset,” Lawson said.
“Over a period of time and through ups and downs, I’ve learned that I feel like I’ve been wrestling better because I’ve just been going out there, focusing on myself and wrestling to the best of my ability, not comparing myself or worrying about winning or losing.”
Lawson, who cracked Intermat’s rankings again on Tuesday at No. 12, has posted a nearly flawless record since taking over again. He won his first match back by a 9-4 decision against Illinois and secured the Lions’ victory against Ohio State on Sunday after his opponent, then-No. 12 Peter Capone, forfeited due to an injury.
His only loss since returning to the starting lineup came on Feb. 8, when he lost 5-4 to No. 8 Zac Thomusseit of Pittsburgh. Lawson also lost the Lions one team point after he threw his headgear in frustration following the defeat.
“During the match, I could see [Thomusseit] was a little bit tired. I was tired too, but he wasn’t really on the offensive,” Lawson said. “It was just a couple of things that were frustrating at the end of the match where I had opportunities to take shots, and I didn’t really go for it as much as I should’ve.”
Gingrich has proven to be no pushover either, though. Since winning the starting position, he has gone 3-2. His two losses were against opponents ranked higher than him, but he upset then-No. 4 Michael McClure of Michigan State in his first match of that span, too.
With two capable heavyweights vying for the same spot, one thing that Sanderson has decided on is that there won’t be another “wrestle-off” to decide what path he chooses for the weight heading into Rider and the rest of the season.
“It’s just got to be based on the evidence that we have — what we know, what we see every day and our gut feelings. Maybe we’re wrong, maybe we’re not,” he said. “But they’re both great and they’ve both done and awesome job and they’ve both had big wins. That’s the fun of being a coach, I guess.”