The Nittany Lions finished fourth in the nation last year, but have since slipped early this season. Call the networks -- the Penn wrestling team is ready for prime time. To go along with their prime time national ranking and their prime time schedule, the No. 10 Quakers take on No. 20 Penn State at 6 p.m. at the Palestra tomorrow night. The match kicks off the dual-meet season for Penn, which was one of only two Division I programs to emerge from last year's dual-meet season unscathed, going 10-0-2 in 1998-99. It also marks the first time since 1954 that the Nittany Lions will face the Quakers in a dual meet. Penn State (0-2) started the year as the 11th-ranked team in the nation, but has slipped nine spots following two close losses in dual-meet competition. The Lions fell 19-14 to No. 13 Edinboro and lost 19-16 to No. 11 Lehigh. Penn State still has holdovers from last year's squad that finished fourth in the country. At 125 pounds, the Nittany Lions' Jeremy Hunter, an NCAA runner-up last year, is widely regarded as one of the premier college wrestlers at any weight class. Since Penn junior Justin Bravo is taking time off to focus on academics, sophomore Kevin Rucci will get the nod on Saturday. Although Rucci's collegiate career is a bit thin compared to the highly decorated Hunter, the two have tangled before. "It's a great opportunity when you have a chance to wrestle the No. 1 guy in the country -- there's really no better experience," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "It's obviously a very big challenge for Kevin, but I think we've given him some things tactically that could be helpful." At the other end of the scales, heavyweight Bandele Adeniyi-Bada will be out for revenge against Penn State's Mark Janus. Adeniyi-Bada, ranked third nationally, lost to No. 12 Janus in sudden death at last year's Penn State Open. And, even though Janus just won his weight class at this year's Penn State Open, the Quakers tri-captain is confident he will exact revenge, as long as he stays on the offensive. "Janus is a somewhat experienced heavyweight, but I don't think he has near the ability or speed that Bandele has," Reina said. "If he lets the Penn State wrestler slow him down and isn't as aggressive, it could end up being a close match. "But it really shouldn't be a close match." Moving down to 197 pounds, junior Mike Fickell looks to build on his breakthrough performance this season, which garnered him Outstanding Wrestler honors at the Keystone Classic. He will match up against Ohio rival Ross Thatcher, a two-time state champion in high school currently ranked No. 12. "In terms of style, Fickell has an advantage," Reina said. "Clearly Mike has advanced more than his opponent and I think he's ready for this." Penn's lineup should feature a number of freshmen. Freshman Jody Giuricich, Chris Hanlon and Brett Vanderveer might all see action on Saturday night. Reina will send out Giuricich at 141 pounds, where he will face a tough test from No. 12 Jason Betz, a three-time NCAA qualifier. Giuricich is turning heads with solid performances early in his college career. He lost a 3-2 match in the finals of the Kickoff Classic and he placed second at the Keystone Classic, both at 149 pounds. Either Hanlon or Vanderveer could start at 133 pounds, facing Penn State freshman Scott Moore. Penn State will put out another freshman at 174 pounds in redshirt Mark Becks. Penn standout Rick Springman will weigh in at 174, according to Reina, but may wrestle at 184 if the need arises. The unusual amount of freshman wrestlers makes Saturday's match a bit unpredictable. It also puts a different spin on the growing rivalry between Penn State and Penn -- the top two Eastern finishers at last year's NCAA Championships. Adeniyi-Bada said the more experienced wrestlers have to help the younger wrestlers get over their nerves during the match. "Penn State has a big name, so it's not only that you're wrestling the guy across from you, you're going against this mythological force," Adeniyi-Bada said. "My role is to break through that whole mystique and just tell them it's just another dude." Reina said the Quakers have been working hard to get Penn State on their schedule. With Penn's national reputation growing tremendously in recent years, the Nittany Lions finally agreed to a two-year home-and-away series. "It comes down to respect for our program and the hard work we've done over the years," Adeniyi-Bada said. "It shows the national recognition that we've earned, that people actually want to wrestle us." But with success opening the doors to new opportunities, Penn no longer remains a Cinderella story. Wins against perennial national powers like Penn State would ensure that Penn not only goes to the ball, but has its name on the guest list.Comments powered by Disqus
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