End of an Era for Penn State Wrestlers
They are a pair of aces who led to a full house and are pursuing another straight that would leave even royals flush with excitement.
For the last four seasons, Penn State wrestling's deck has been stacked and this Sunday, one last full house will watch them cash in while others fold.
David Taylor and Ed Ruth are arguably the two greatest wrestlers to ever don a Penn State singlet. Penn State won one national title in its first 102 seasons of wrestling. Then came the dynamic duo. Penn State has won three consecutive titles with Taylor and Ruth in the lineup and are the favorites to capture a fourth championship this season.
Taylor has a chance to become Penn State's first-ever four-time NCAA finalist. Ruth could become the first three-time national champion in the school's history. They have each lost just three times in their collegiate careers. Neither has ever lost a dual meet.
If they both win out in the postseason, they will finish with the top two career winning percentage in school history. They will both finish among the top three on the career pins chart (Taylor is still five shy of the school record). They are among the most dominant wrestlers the sport has ever seen, routinely racking up bonus points for their team.
The statistics will assure their names are remembered in the record books. But for those who have witnessed their remarkable careers, the memories will be about much more than the impressive wins.
Taylor enthusiastically leaps in the air before each bout and often eggs the crowd on after his wins by raising his arms.
Ruth calmly smiles as the crowd intones "Ruuuuuuuuuth" before and after his victories. Both have their own styles, their own signature moves (Taylor's ankle pick and Ruth's cross-face cradle) and both have wowed wrestling fans with their wide array and big variety of scoring options.
To watch Ruth and Taylor compete is to watch artistry at its highest level. "It's been great to wrestle with him because I think we both kind of feed off each other," Ruth said recently. "He usually goes first so I kind of see what he does and see if I can match him. He just has so much energy and I think we both just love to compete."
"We're obviously both really competitive," Taylor concurs. Before the season, Taylor explained "If one of us scores a lot points or gets a pin, the other wants to do the same thing or something better. It's been great. I think the coaches have been able to get the most out of both of us, keeping us hungry and keeping us focused.
"Ed's always got a smile on his face and he's obviously gotten a lot better over the course of his career and he's done the right things at the right times and been real dominant. Not everyone gets to say they were teammates with one of the best wrestlers all-time in the NCAA and I can say that. I just think this is a real special time at Penn State."
On Sunday, fans will have one final chance to appreciate this phenomenal tandem at Rec Hall. Senior day is always special and always emotional. But this one will be special. Talents and personalities like Taylor and Ruth don't come around often and they very rarely come around together.
Their four years at Penn State have been spectacular and while they have had plenty of support -- the Nittany Lions' roster is stocked with big names and big talent -- Taylor and Ruth have been the steady, dominant forces who have guided the team for four seasons. For opponents, it has seemed like this day would never come. For Penn State fans, the careers have gone by all too fast.
"I know I have no regrets," Ruth says. "I have given my all and I think I tried to put on a show every time I went out there. I am very happy with my career and I'm ready for the next step."
"I'm just trying to enjoy everything about this year," Taylor says. "I just love everything about Penn State and I love competing in Rec Hall. There's really nothing like it. I love the fans here and I will miss competing in front of that crowd."
The fans will certainly miss seeing their stars showcase their talents in front of them. And the fans aren't the only ones who will be missing Taylor and Ruth next season. "I know I haven't been looking forward to seeing their careers come to an end," head coach Cael Sanderson explains. "They are both great. I mean right from their freshman year, they both competed with dominance and just an attitude and passion that is very, very rare. Their consistency is extremely rare."
Sunday will be a celebration and a culmination of the home careers of two giants in Penn State wrestling. Two other seniors will be recognized Sunday and they are remarkable in their own right. James English is the consummate student-athlete and is a testament to perseverance and commitment. English has battled chronic back and neck problems and has been as good of a representative of the program as anyone who has ever wrestled here. When healthy, English is among the best in the nation at 149 pounds.
And James Vollrath has been a vital part of the program. He was key to Penn State's first Big Ten title when he secured a pin to take seventh place as the Nittany Lions edged Iowa by a single point. Vollrath has consistently competed with very best and battled Dylan Alton about as tough as anyone in the country over the last few years.
Both English and Vollrath will long be remembered by fans for their commitment to Penn State, their own remarkable wrestling skills and their leadership which has been vital to this historic four-year run.
A lot has been made of the depth in the Penn State wrestling room and the four other seniors who will be recognized have also been vital in the championship runs. Kyle Moran, Cam Kelly, Nate Morgan and Seth Beitz will all be honored and will forever be known as wrestlers from the greatest era of Penn State wrestling.
An era at Rec Hall ends Sunday and to the seniors we can only give a heartfelt thanks for the memories.