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Jeff Byers: Penn State Wrestling Pinning the Competition

by on January 06, 2012 4:00 PM

It is the difference between watching a baseball team hit single after single and eventually score four runs and a grand slam that ignites the stadium roars. It is the difference between scoring a couple of field goals and a razzle-dazzle punt return for a touchdown.

A run is a run, and six points is six points, but if you want to thrill the crowd, provide memorable moments and seize momentum, you need the sizzle, you need the big play. There is something special about a pin in wrestling and there is something special about this Penn State team and its remarkable ability to rack up the falls and get the crowd enthused.

At the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Nittany Lions pulled away from Minnesota for the team title. And there were lots of quality wins and good, hard-fought decisions along the way. But the tournament will long be remembered for the bonus points that Penn State was able to garner, especially the 18 pins registered for 36 additional team points (Penn State won the tournament by 14 points over the Golden Gophers).

The pins came in bunches which made them all the more exciting. Penn State recorded five-straight falls in the first round of the tournament and won another five-in-seven bouts during the second round. Seven different wrestlers recorded pins in the tournament and 20 different wrestlers have recorded pins this season, including 10 wrestlers that have been in the starting lineup.

This helps create great expectations and draws fans in and then keeps them on the edge of their seats. You can't look away because Quentin Wright may hit one of his big throws and send an opponent right to his back, Ed Ruth may lock up one of his signature cradles, Bryan Pearsall may use his long limbs to tie up and roll an opponent over or David Taylor may be, well, David Taylor. This is a team that thrives on capitalizing on the big-scoring opportunities.

While there is no doubting the considerable talent on this team, there is also a clear directive from the coaching staff. The goal in this sport is to dominate and the ultimate domination is to pin your opponent. Cael Sanderson, Cody Sanderson, Casey Cunningham and Aaron Anspach have instilled the mindset with which they want their wrestlers to compete. And the message had been heard and resoundingly accepted.

After the tournament, Taylor, who won the tournament's outstanding wrestler award, said this team is rarely satisfied with a victory if it is by a mere decision. The team has a running competition to see who can record the most falls and bonus points, along with other statistics.

Taylor had an impressive eight falls a year ago but he already has matched that total as we enter the thick of the dual meet schedule. Taylor leads a group of four starters to have recorded at least six pins already this season.

Penn State can beat you in other ways – the Nittany Lions also recorded an astounding nine technical falls and 11 major decisions during the two-day event. The wrestlers also have the ability to grind out a close decision over tough competition. But it's the pins that sent this team to a thrilling victory.

Frank Molinaro, who didn't record a fall but did pick up a couple of technical falls while running his record to 16-0 on the season, says this team is ultra-competitive.

"We definitely want to be the most dominant team and we compete against each other to see who can score more points," the three-time All-American said after the Scuffle.

Penn State's career leader in falls is Josh Moore with 53. Next in line is Scott Moore with 34 (in three seasons) and Kerry McCoy. To put what is happening in perspective, it is possible, and if the wrestlers can avoid significant injuries, even likely that at least four wrestlers on the current roster could end up with 34 or more.

Andrew Alton, who is redshirting this season after recording 18 pins as a freshman last season, would seem a virtual lock to pick up at least another 17 over the next three years of eligibility. Taylor (with 16 career falls midway through his sophomore year) and Ruth (with 19 at the same stage of his career as Taylor) also seem like sure bets to surpass the 34 mark. Cameron Wade, a senior, could make a run at it, too, as he currently sits at 28 career falls. Throw in Wright who is at 18 career pins along with other potential pinners like freshmen Nicco Megaludis and Morgan McIntosh and this team could very well have four of the top five pinners in the history of the program on its roster and another two or three who could finish in the top 10 when it's all said and done. This is in a program with a rich wrestling tradition of over 100 years.

Having Alton, Taylor and Ruth on the same team for several years brings to mind the Bronx Bombers. Penn State's home-run hitters are still learning their craft but the buzz they are creating is undeniable. The crowd stands at rapt attention, waiting to see the next big blow that will energize its team.

These are indeed exciting teams to be a fan of Penn State wrestling.

Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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