Jonathan Flores/Pipe Dream Photographer Redshirt junior Anthony Lombardo placed fifth in the 174-pound weight class at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open on Sunday.

The Binghamton wrestling team is set to host the No. 1 team in the country, Penn State’s Nittany Lions, this Friday at the Events Center in Vestal, New York. This will be a key matchup for the Bearcats, as the Nittany Lions are a powerhouse in wrestling, as well as one of the most well-known schools in college sports. Penn State’s wrestling program is coming off its second national championship in a row and its sixth in the last seven years.

“This season we crank it up, next Friday we crank it up against Penn State,” said BU head coach Matt Dernlan. “You can’t really overhype this when you’re talking about the most dominant team in college wrestling.”

Cael Sanderson has been the head coach at Penn State since 2009. Throughout his time there, the Nittany Lions have experienced immense success, winning six national championships in eight years, including the previous two seasons.

“We’re really going to find out what we’re about,” Dernlan said. “And that’s what we want, people talk developing national champions and All-Americans but if you’re not putting yourself into the fire with these people that have actually done it, then it’s hard to figure out how to handle that process.”

Prior to Sanderson’s arrival at Penn State, Dernlan was the head assistant and director of recruiting for the Nittany Lions. During his time in the role, Penn State successfully produced three consecutive top-four ranked recruiting classes from 2005-07. After Sanderson was hired as head coach, Dernlan served as director of operations, winning back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012.

In 2007, Binghamton faced off against Sanderson on the road at Sanderson’s former school, Iowa State. This was the highest-ranked opponent Binghamton had wrestled against in program history, having very few matchups against top-ranked teams in past program history. BU lost that match, 30-15. The Penn State matchup will be similar in terms of the quality of the opposition.

“Once we actually put our hands on these guys, you get a bit of familiarity and insight and you realize what it takes emotionally, what it takes physically, what it takes mentally and focus-wise,” Dernlan said. “All of the little things that go into the dynamic of being one of the best guys in the country. That’s the output we’re looking for out of this experience.”

Last season, Binghamton traveled to State College to play Penn State in what was a 46-0 loss. Dernlan believes that this experience will help the Bearcats in Friday’s matchup.

“We know who they are and we’re embracing who they are and we’re going to get better from this experience,” Dernlan said. “It’s also a familiar experience for a lot of these guys, eight out of the 10 guys that will be on the mat this Friday night were at Rec Hall in State College when we wrestled them last year, so they know what they’re up against and they know what the feel will be like. I think the identifiers that we have from our past experience are going to serve us well.”

BU opened its season last Sunday with a successful showing in the 2017 Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. Penn State began its season with two dominant victories over Army and Bucknell.

“This is a premier event for our program, but it’s also a premier flagship event for the entire athletic department,” Dernlan said. “I think somebody compared them to UCLA basketball coming to the Events Center. It should be a point of pride for everyone in the athletic department that we’re actually able to attract and bring the number one team and most dominant team in their sport to our home facilities.”

It is rare for Binghamton to compete against a team as highly ranked as Penn State in any sport. It is even rarer for this matchup to occur at home. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m. on Friday from the Events Center in Vestal, New York.

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