2/7/21 Ohio State, Thomas Penola

197-pound sophomore Thomas Penola fights to take down Ohio State's Gavin Hoffman on Sunday. Penola won the match in a 3-2 decision.

The No. 18 Purdue wrestling squad looks to ascend the next rung of the competitive ladder when it faces the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans, its final ranked opponent of the season.

Despite falling to No. 1 Iowa and then-No. 11 Ohio State, head coach Tony Ersland said he’s proud of his wrestlers for the way they’ve competed against some of the most competitive teams in the Big Ten.

“(Our players) competed hard and were dominant where they should have been dominant,” Ersland said. “Even though we’re disappointed because we didn’t win the dual, there was still a lot of progress made in the dual.”

Gerrit Nijenhuis, a 165-pound freshman, quickly showed that he was one of Purdue’s top young performers against the two teams. He defeated Iowa sophomore Joe Kelly to give Purdue a fighting chance against the Hawkeyes late into the first dual.

Ersland praised Nijenhuis’ performance throughout the season, saying he looks comfortable and is consistently wrestling well against tough competition.

“As a young guy, we still have a lot of technical things we want to continue to hammer away at,” Ersland said. “But it’s exciting to see what his potential is.”

In a closely contested matchup with some of the Big Ten’s toughest teams, the environment in Holloway Gymnasium remained filled with energy. Ersland says the team has been building to that sort of electricity throughout the season.

“People are going to get excited when your wrestlers compete hard and with emotion,” Ersland said. “It gets not only the fans that are in the arena engaged, but it gets your teammates going when your guys battle and fight for each other.”

To Ersland, the team’s competitiveness in the Big Ten will be determined by how it can work through small mistakes against wrestling’s biggest teams. The coach seeks to fortify talent behind the starting wrestlers to ensure every member of the team can stay ready for whatever comes their way.

“We have some good talent that’s working hard, but depth is key,” Ersland said. “We need to make sure that everyone we bring in, down to the last guy, is able to push our wrestlers, whether he’s a starter or not.”

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