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Jeff Byers: Ten Best Moments From a Memorable Regular Season for Nittany Lion Wrestlers

by on February 24, 2012 10:55 AM

The Big Ten and NCAA championships are just around the corner for the defending national champion Penn State wrestling team. This is what the coaches and wrestlers have worked toward all season.

Dreams will be realized and crushed, seasons and careers made or broken, memories made.

But before we get to all of the excitement and drama that the postseason provides, let’s look back at a pretty remarkable regular season. The following are 10 moments that stood out from the 2011-12 Penn State wrestling season.

10. RUTH SCARES OFF A MUNSTER

Ed Ruth has made it look easy this season. On Jan. 13, Ruth was set to face his biggest test of the season to that point against Northwestern’s Lee Munster. Ruth came out of the gates on fire, and with three takedowns and a couple of tilts, built an 11-2 lead after the first period.

Ruth would go on to record the technical fall in 5:37, leaving little doubt as to how he would respond to bigger challenges this season.

9. PEARSALL POUNCES ON BONSON

Bryan Pearsall was battling for the starting job and coming off a hard-fought loss in the West Virginia meet. His opponent in the Lock Haven match was 14th-ranked Matt Bonson.

Pearsall took control early with a nice takedown and nearfall points. He got more nearfall points and then hit a headlock on Bonson as the two were scrambling on the mat for an electrifying pin. The victory put Pearsall over the .500 mark on the season and helped propel the Nittany Lions to a shutout over their next-door neighbors.

8. COUNTY FESTIVAL

In the Southern Scuffle finals, Penn State’s Quentin Wright squared off with Cornell’s Steve Bosak. Wright is a Bald Eagle Area grad and Bosak is a State High grad, so the match was more than a little intriguing for Centre County fans. Bosak was ranked No. 4 at the time, one spot ahead of Wright. However, Wright got the initial takedown and completely shut down Bosak in a dominating 10-3 win. The victory gave clear indication that the returning NCAA champ was out of his early season funk and would again be a strong contender.

7. STARTING STRONG

Penn State welcomed Bloomsburg to Rec Hall for the season opener. True freshman Nico Megaludis opened the season against Sean Boyle. Megaludis came out strong and picked up a couple of quick takedowns. Megaludis then worked for a turning combination and flattened Boyle at the 2:15 mark of the first period. The aggressive start and the end result set the tone for the season for both Nico and the Nittany Lions.

6. ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE

With the dual meet against eastern rival Pitt already decided, the fans remained in Rec Hall to watch the dual meet career of Cameron Wade come to an end. Wade had already recorded 30 career pins and was riding an eight-match win streak. The fans were hoping for Wade to finish both the dual meet and his Rec Hall career with one more pin. The fans got their wish 56 seconds into the second period.  

5. MCINTOSH TAKES A GAMBRALL

Penn State’s loss to Iowa in last year’s dual meet was the unquestioned low point of an otherwise spectacularly successful season. So, the Nittany Lions were anxious to exact a little revenge when the Hawkeyes visited again on Jan. 22. Freshman Morgan McIntosh took the mat to face Iowa’s Grant Gambrall, a third-place All-American a year ago, with Penn State holding a 16-12 advantage. McIntosh scored a counter takedown in overtime to secure his biggest collegiate win to date and to salt away the big dual meet victory for the Nittany Lions.

4. MOLINARO SHOWS GREATNESS

Penn State lost to Minnesota in their dual meet on Nov. 11. Even in his individual victory, Frank Molinaro gave up a couple of somewhat sloppy takedowns in a 16-10 decision. Ness had a shot at redemption in the Southern Scuffle finals. Instead, Molinaro came out strong and never allowed Ness to get his offense going. Molinaro dominated in all three phases and picked up a 9-1 major decision.

3. IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL THERE’S THREE SECONDS LEFT

Bryan Pearsall was trailing 6-0 after two periods in the dual meet finale against Pitt’s Travis Shaffer. With a couple of takedowns and a two-point nearfall tilt, Shaffer spent most of the first two periods riding Pearsall, assuring himself an additional riding time point. So Pearsall was really trailing 7-0, but he got a third-period takedown and tried to turn Shaffer a few times. All the Pitt wrestler had to do was not get pinned and he would give Pitt the dual meet lead. But with 15 seconds left, Pearsall secured a cradle and after several agonizing seconds of the official waiting to assure the call, the pin was awarded with just three seconds left. The Nittany Lions rode the momentum from Pearsall’s surprise ending to a rousing 33-6 triumph over their in-state rivals.

2. MOVIN’ ON UP

Matt Brown proved its not the size of the Lion but his heart (and considerable skill) that counts in an improbable weekend. On Feb. 3, Brown stepped in for an injured Morgan McIntosh. Nebraska’s 197-pounder was James Nakashima, a senior who ended the regular season with a 16-7 record. Brown is a redshirt freshman who weighed in at 174 pounds for the match. Brown pushed the action, trying desperately to get a takedown. Eventually, Brown forced a second stall warning on Nakashima and the result was 2-1 victory. Two days later, Brown again weighed in at 174 and this time was pitted against 15th-ranked Max Huntley of Michigan. In his encore performance, Brown brought the Rec Hall partisan to its feet with a third-period takedown to clinch the 3-1 victory. The wins served as confirmation that Brown will be a name with which Penn State fans will become very familiar over the next few years.

1. THIS JUST IN - DAVID TAYLOR’S PRETTY GOOD

At the Nittany Lion Open, many observers were anxious to see if David Taylor could still defeat Steve Fittery, the funky graduate of American University, who Taylor defeated 7-1 in the NCAA semifinals last season. Fittery had been reportedly looking forward to the rematch and training hard in the hopes of getting another shot at Taylor. Well, Fittery got his opportunity and the result was indeed different with Taylor methodically scoring after falling behind early. When the dust settled, Taylor had a 14-6 major decision over the man who had finished third for American as a senior the previous season. Because Fittery has finished his collegiate career, the win will not count on Taylor’s official record, but with that victory, Taylor served notice that he was ready for all comers this season.

Honorable mention moments:

The post-meet scene at Utah Valley where hundreds of kids lined the floor to get autographs and pictures with many of the Nittany Lion coaches and wrestlers. It was a tribute to the passion for the Sandersons in Utah and to the clout the Nittany Lion wrestlers now carry nationally.

Frank Molinaro’s victory lap after his final home appearance in a Penn State singlet vs. Pitt.

Nico Megaludis taking former national champ and two-time finalist Matt McDonough, of Iowa, to overtime.

Several of the pins racked up by Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright this season — they have been scoring some spectacular falls this year.

The Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments figure to provide many more memorable moments for the wrestlers, coaches and fans.

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