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Lauren Muthler | Centre Daily Times | January 26, 2018

Nittany Lions ready for toughest stretch of dual schedule

UNIVERSITY PARK -- As Penn State wrestling turns the corner and heads into the homestretch of its 2017-18 dual season, there's not a hint of fatigue in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.

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In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"I think that I'm better now than I ever have been," junior Jason Nolf said. "I'm feeling better each match. I felt really good on Sunday, and just continue to look for pins and bonus points."

And the Nittany Lions prepare to dive into the toughest stretch of their dual season -- with upcoming duals against No. 14 Minnesota, No. 18 Rutgers, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Iowa -- now is an opportune time for Penn State wrestlers to be feeling their best.

Penn State, which hosts the Golden Gophers on Friday and travels to New Jersey on Sunday, has experienced a heightened sense of anticipation leading up to a weekend that should feature tilts against 13 ranked wrestlers.

That enthusiasm has even reached the typically stoic head coach Cael Sanderson.

"I'm excited," Sanderson said about some of the upcoming matchups. "It should be a great opportunity for us."

The uptick in competition for the Nittany Lions -- who already faced ranked opponents Lehigh, Michigan and Purdue in a 47-day span earlier in the season -- comes at a pivotal moment in the campaign.

With the dual season winding down and the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments on the horizon, talk surrounding rankings, tournament seeding and postseason awards is ratcheting up.

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The NCAA released the first of its four coaches'panel individual rankings last week, which has nine out of 10 Nittany Lions ranked in the top 25 for each weight class. The final version of which will be used as part of the selection process to determine the qualifiers for the NCAA championship tournament.

But Sanderson said he's not worried about his wrestlers getting caught up in any of those distractions.

"We don't worry about those type of things," he said. "If you're following the rankings and seedings, it'd drive you a little crazy. What matters is what happens when we show up and compete in the tournaments and in each dual meet."

The Nittany Lions have a couple chances to knock off top-notch competition over the next few days.

One of the most anticipated bouts of the weekend will see Penn State's true freshman Nick Lee face off against All-American and two-time NCAA qualifier Tommy Thorn on Friday at Rec Hall. The Minnesota grappler has been on a tear recently, coming off two big major decisions over Michigan's Sal Profaci and Ohio State's Joey McKenna.

Still, Lee -- who's ranked seventh in the nation in technical falls -- isn't letting the impending matchup faze him.

"It's just part of the schedule," he said, less than two weeks after Penn State removed his redshirt. "It's just about the same thing every day. You still have school to worry about, and you've got yourself to worry about, and you've got wrestling. So I think it's about being comfortable in a routine and I'll just do my best every day."

Lee's teammate, Nolf, said he's never had any trouble -- not even in high school -- focusing on anything other than the immediate task at hand.

"My coaches have always told me to take one match at a time and not to focus on any other matches than the one right in front of you," he said.

So what's Nolf thinking about Friday's match?

"Hopefully a lot of pins."

This article is written by Lauren Muthler from Centre Daily Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.