No. 2 Lee vs. No. 1 Pletcher to highlight Ohio State at Penn State dual
UNIVERSITY PARK — All season, Nick Lee has been considered among a handful of the top wrestlers at 141 pounds. With a win Saturday night, Lee could catapult himself from being ranked No. 2 to the top of the rankings and the favorite to win the NCAA title.
Lee’s impending showdown with top-ranked Luke Pletcher is the most intriguing of many juicy storylines that will be in play when No. 6 Ohio State visits No. 2 Penn State for a 7:30 p.m. dual in the Nittany Lions’ annual Bryce Jordan Center dual.
Lee is known for his even-keeled demeanor on the mat and his upbeat attitude off the mat. But one of his teammates said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex that the undefeated junior will be excited for the challenge, even if he doesn’t show it.
“Oh, he’s gonna do his thing,” freshman 184-pounder Aaron Brooks said with a smile. “I’m excited for him. I know he’s really excited, too, so it’ll be fun to watch but I have my confidence. I know Nick Lee … he’s excited. Take it from me, he’s excited.”
Lee is coming off arguably the most dominant weekend in his three years as a starter. He thrashed No. 7 Tristan Moran of Wisconsin on Friday before pinning No. 5 Mitch McKee of Minnesota in 1 minute, 56 seconds on Sunday.
Lee shared Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors with Michigan’s second-ranked Mason Parris, who pinned Iowa’s third-ranked Tony Cassioppi over the weekend.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said he always sees a positive attitude in Lee.
“I think he’s always excited. He’s always consistent. He’s always in a good mood. He’s always upbeat,” Sanderson said. “Throughout his career, even when he hasn’t had a good match or it hasn’t gone well he just doesn’t get down. I’m trying to think of analogy to compare him to. He might be the analogy. He’s in a great mood all the time. Very optimistic, very positive. Obviously, he’s a great leader for us.”
Lee vs. Pletcher will be a pairing of two undefeated wrestlers. Lee is 16-0, 15 of which have come with bonus points. He has four pins, seven technical falls and four major decisions. Pletcher is 22-0 with three pins, two technical falls and nine major decisions.
“Pletcher’s always been really good. He’s just a great wrestler. He’s really good on his feet, great attacks,” Sanderson said. “(He’s) obviously a (Pennsylvania) kid. I think he’s a three-time PA state champ (and four-time finalist). I don’t think there’s any surprise about the success he’s been having. He’s just a great wrestler.”
Sanderson has said many times he prefers the intimate atmosphere of Rec Hall over the Jordan Center. He admitted, though, that the BJC has grown on him.
“We like Rec Hall. We love competing there. I think the Jordan Center, every year, becomes more and more like a home. The first couple years it was like wrestling an away meet with Penn State fans,” he said. “It’s a little different feel. The Jordan Center’s great, too. They do a really nice job with the setup. We enjoy it. The matches have been exciting. This weekend has the potential to be another great one.”
Rec Hall, Bryce Jordan Center and Beaver Stadium?
Several programs around the country have taken advantage of wrestling’s recent surge in popularity to move dual meets to different venues.
Iowa has wrestled a dual meet in Kinnick Stadium. Rutgers has competed in High Point Solutions Stadium. And Arizona State held several duals on a January day at Chase Field in Phoenix, the home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
Might Penn State someday roll out a mat in Beaver Stadium? It’s not out of the question.
“We’ve discussed wrestling in Beaver Stadium before. We’ve gone back and forth on that. I don’t want to play with the weather and that whole deal. Plus, it’s early in the season. I think there are definitely some positives,” Sanderson said. “Some of the outdoor matches have really been amazing. The results have been outstanding and it’s great for the sport. I would guess that before long that’s something that you would see us do. It’s not up there as priority one or two for me or for our program, I don’t think. But it’s definitely something we’re thinking about doing.”
Brooks is aiming high
When Sanderson pulled Brooks’ redshirt and inserted him in the lineup on Dec. 6 at Lehigh, that was a sure sign that the staff thought the true freshman was ready for the rigors of a Big Ten schedule.
He won his debut, 10-5, and Sanderson promised bigger and better things after that performance.
“He’s a guy we feel can contend for a national title at that weight class. With three months of college wrestling, I think he’ll jump a couple levels,” Sanderson said that night.
Brooks was of a like mind.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m optimistic. The plan is to get better every week, every match. I’m excited to see the version I’ll be in March,” he said.
He’s been off and running ever since. He’s now 10-1 and ranked No. 6. And he seemingly reveals another part of his arsenal every time he steps on the mat.
“I’m still getting there, new things in my style and just wrestling harder and wrestling smarter. So, I’m still not at my peak but I’m getting there,” Brooks said.
“What will your peak look like?” a reporter asked him.
“National champion,” he answered emphatically.