Nittany Lions crush Army West Point in dual meet opener

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Make no mistake, Penn State’s trip to the United States Military Academy on Friday was a business trip — a chance to open the season against a program full of hard-nosed soldiers.

And the No. 2 Nittany Lions took care of business, sweeping all 10 bouts, scoring bonus points in nine, in a 45-0 shutout.

However, it wasn’t lost on any of the Lions, especially head coach Cael Sanderson, what an honor it was to wrestle at West Point on Veterans Day.

“I think, more than anything, it’s humbling. I couldn’t even really express the gratitude that I have and we have,” he said. “We wouldn’t have NCAA wrestling if it wasn’t for our military and the freedom we enjoy in our country and the sacrifices that have been made throughout history and are being made today. Really, these are our brothers. It’s an honor to be here. We’d fight side by side with them if need be.”

Instead, Penn State went head to head with Army and earned two falls, three technical falls, three major decisions and two decisions while accruing a 38-3 advantage in takedowns.

Much like the rest of Nittany Nation, Sanderson said he wanted to see this year’s team on the mat against someone other than teammates.

“Just like everybody else, I was excited to see the team compete. We saw some new faces, some young guys compete and the guys wrestled well, scored a lot of points. We’re always going to have areas to improve on, but we’re focusing on the positives,” he said.

Three Nittany Lions made their debuts — true freshman 125-pounder Nick Suriano, sophomore transfer 133-pounder Jered Cortez and redshirt freshman 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph — and all impressed.

“I thought they all wrestled great,” Sanderson said.

Suriano kicked off the 2016-17 season with a dominating 15-4 major decision, scoring six takedowns along the way.

Cortez, who had to sit out last year after transferring from Illinois, roared out to an 8-0 lead after a period and then cruised to a 14-1 major decision win.

Joseph scored a takedown within seconds of the opening whistle, built a 12-3 first-period lead and then added two takedowns each in the second and third periods in rolling up a 21-6 technical fall in 5:48.

Joseph said he tried his best not to think about his debut.

“I was pretty excited to get back on the mat,” he said. “I tried not to think about it a lot. Even days in advance, if I think about it a lot, I’ll get pretty nervous. Once I get on the mat it’s just routine.”

The same could be said for the rest of the Lions’ lineup. Bo Nickal, up a weight at 184, needed just 25 seconds to score a fall. He was joined in the pin parade by Jason Nolf, who needed just 2:19.

Nick Nevills (17-2 in 4:31) and Zain Retherford (21-3 in 6:31) amassed technical falls. Jimmy Gulibon added a 16-6 major decision. Geno Morelli, who won a first wrestle-off with Shakur Rasheed this week, earned the start at 174 and gutted out a 6-4 decision.

Matt McCutcheon, who was beaten by Bo Nickal at 184, moved up to 197 and eked out a 4-2 win.

Joseph shared one final thought of a Veteran’s Day spent on among military officers in training situated in the breathtaking vistas of West Point.

“This was an incredible experience,” he said. “I’m very grateful that Army had us come in and wrestle today at this place. It’s an amazing place. Hopefully we can come here and wrestle again.”

Penn State turns its thoughts to its home opener 2 p.m. Sunday against a Stanford squad that will present some interesting challenges for the Nittany Lions.