By Travis Johnson
Centre Daily Times
UNIVERSITY PARK Morgan McIntosh is feeling better and Justin Ortega is hungry for more.
A week after an injury to one of their most talented freshmen, the No. 5 Nittany Lions' options at 197 pounds are looking better as Penn State (4-1, 0-1) prepares for Sunday's trip to Lock Haven to take on the Bald Eagles (3-2).
McIntosh, a true freshman ranked No. 10 at 197 pounds, said Tuesday his recovery from what team trainers call an LCL sprain in McIntosh's right knee is on track. McIntosh suffered the injury in the finals of the Nittany Lion Open on Dec. 4 against Maryland's No. 9 Christian Boley and he expects to be ready after resting for a week.
"It's getting better," McIntosh said. "I think it should be good for this weekend."
At the Nittany Lions' practice on Tuesday, McIntosh's right knee was heavily wrapped, but the freshman said he planned to wrestle and take part in practice this week. While mildly painful, McIntosh said the injury has limited his side-to-side movement.
It also prevented him from wrestling live until last Friday.
McIntosh joined a pre-practice jog with the rest of his teammates who chose to practice early as opposed to later in the afternoon an option coach Cael Sanderson gave his team during finals week.
Sanderson was not available for comment Tuesday, but said all weekend that holding McIntosh out was precautionary due to the nature of the injury. McIntosh said he didn't feel the full effects of the knee sprain until later in the night and the morning after the Nittany Lion Open.
"He could've wrestled, but it's just not really worth it," Sanderson said after Penn State beat West Virginia last weekend.
McIntosh warmed up before the Sunday's dual and the meet against No. 10 Lehigh on Friday before deciding with the indirect help of his teammates who built big early leads in both of those duals he'd take the nights off.
"I was going to be ready to wrestle, get my warmup in, get all taped up," McIntosh said. "I was ready to go if the team needed me to wrestle, but the way things turned out, the team wrestled pretty well and tied up the dual pretty early."
Still, it wasn't easy for McIntosh to watch.
"It's super frustrating. I wish I could've wrestled," McIntosh said. "It's tough to sit there on the sidelines and watch other guys wrestle while you can't. But in the long run it's smarter just to let it heal up so it'll be better than before for those bigger tournaments."
Junior Justin Ortega stepped in for McIntosh, but the Nittany Lions didn't get any team points out of the 197-pound bouts in either match.
Ortega lost to Lehigh's No. 7 Joe Kennedy and West Virginia's Mac Mancuso, respectively.
"You can't be satisfied with a loss, I lost two times, but I feel like I'm improving a lot from last year," Ortega said.
Although his first two dual bouts of the season went down as losses, Ortega a lankier 197 pounder when compared to McIntosh impressed Sanderson, especially against the highly-ranked Kennedy.
"Ortega did a nice job," Sanderson said after Ortega's close bout with Kennedy. "He was right there in a one-point match. I think the kid majored him last year, so he stepped that up quite a bit."
Ortega nearly took an early lead against the fifth-year senior Kennedy, but couldn't finish a takedown at the edge of the mat and ended up losing 2-0. Against the Mountaineers, Ortega and Mancuso were tied 2-2 heading into the third period before Mancuso escaped to take a 3-2 lead. Ortega tried numerous shots but Mancuso was able to fend each one off to hold on for the win.
"I'm working better on my feet, starting to take shots a little bit more and just being less cautious overall," Ortega said. "That's what you've got to do. You can't go out there and be cautious. You've just got to take the shot."
Whether he'll get another shot this weekend will largely depend on where McIntosh is physically. Like he's done with other injuries to his wrestlers this season, Sanderson has usually made match-time decisions as to who will wrestle. Ortega will be ready.
"I'm preparing again because again, I really don't know the full details about much," Ortega said. "It's just, if they need me to go in, I'll go in. That's one of the priorities of a backup is, you've just got to be ready at all times."
Tags: Cael Sanderson, Justin Ortega, Morgan McIntosh