Jeff Byers: Top 10 Storylines for Penn State Wrestling
Amid high expectations and tremendous anticipation, the Penn State wrestling team’s dual season gets underway Friday when Eastern rival Lehigh visits Rec Hall.
With all of the home duals already sold out, interest in the program is at an all-time high. As the Nittany Lions pursue a third consecutive national championship under fourth-year head coach Cael Sanderson, here are what I consider the top ten storylines for the upcoming season.
10. Drawing A Crowd
Penn State has drawn well at home and on the road the past few seasons, but this figures to be a record-breaking season. The Nittany Lions have already sold out all of their home duals, and there only a handful of standing room-only tickets remaining for a few of the duals. The Nittany Lions' meet at Iowa also figures to draw a five-figure crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, with Penn State almost certain to draw the largest crowd of its road opponents’ home meets this season. With its entertaining style and the brand name now entering unprecedented territory, Penn State wrestling will play to a full house more often than not.
9. Zero Tolerance
Penn State could have several opportunities to pitch a shutout this season. The Nittany Lions have recorded two shutouts in each of the last two seasons. With a more solid dual meet lineup, the Lions, when healthy, may be able to overwhelm several opponents. It would not be shocking to see this year’s team post three or four, or maybe even more, sweeps of all 10 bouts in dual meets.
8. Sophomore Slump or Surge?
Nico Megaludis followed a solid regular season with a spectacular NCAA tournament last season as a true freshman. Megaludis blazed his way to the NCAA finals. With a win over preseason No. 3, Jesse Delgado, of Illinois, Megaludis seems to have served notice that he has no intention of slipping back. Whether he can defeat three-time NCAA finalist and two-time champion Matt McDonough of Iowa is another matter. It would seem that Megaludis is among the few who threaten McDonough this season.
7. Wingate Winners
Penn State may have two Bald Eagle grads in its starting lineup this season. Redshirt sophomore Jon Gingrich captured the title at the Binghamton Open this past weekend and is locked in a battle for the starting job with Jimmy Lawson. The battle for the starting job at heavyweight figures to be a good one and competitive one, but if Gingrich emerges, Penn State’s lineup will end with a pair of Bald Eagle are grads (Quentin Wright will be at 197, in case you really have been paying no attention).
6. What Brown Can Do For PSU
Matt Brown anxiously bid his time last season, making the most of his opportunities while toiling behind Ed Ruth at 174 pounds. Brown was an impressive 27-2 but couldn’t crack the lineup with the undefeated national champion in front of him. But with Ruth moving up to 184 this year, Brown will get the chance to showcase his skills on a regular basis. It’s hard to tell who is more excited about Brown being in the starting lineup, the coaches or Brown himself. His grinding, relentless style should have him positioned to make a run at the national title this season.
5. Pearsall’s Progress
On a team that is dominated by five-star recruits and can’t miss pedigrees, Bryan Pearsall is a testament to perseverance and hard work. There is something endearing about having a starter on this historically great team who never even placed in high school. After a 3-21 record as a freshman, Pearsall is entering his senior season as a leader on a team filled with leaders and with a very realistic goal of becoming an All-American for the Nittany Lions.
4. Doubling the Alton Factor
Two years ago, Andrew Alton burst onto the collegiate scene with a flurry of fast falls. Last year, Dylan Alton created a splash with an explosive third-place finish at the NCAA tournament. This year, for the first time in their collegiate careers, the twin brothers will both be in the Penn State lineup. The twin powers will be an integral part of Penn State’s success and should enjoy a three-year run of being together in the starting lineup.
3. Running the Table
For all of the success of the last two seasons, Penn State has tasted defeat each year. Iowa beat Penn State in Rec Hall two years ago (and Minnesota tied the Nittany Lions in the season finale), and Minnesota surprised the Nittany Lions at home last season. Penn State will be prohibitive favorites in all of the home duals this year but has three road duals that could be problematic with trips to Illinois and Ohio State and an especially intriguing matchup at Iowa on Feb. 1. Time will tell if Sanderson can notch his first undefeated dual season this year.
2. Magical Matchup
David Taylor is known as the Magic Man and he will look to pull out all of his tricks in a couple of anticipated showdowns with a fellow legend-in-the-making. Taylor was edged by Kyle Dake, of Cornell, in the NWCA all-star meet, and the two are expected to meet at the Southern Scuffle finals and the NCAA finals. There are a couple of other wrestlers who could spoil the planned party, but if things go according to script, the next two meetings will be among the most-anticipated and viewed matches in the history of the sport. Taylor is last year’s Hodge Trophy winner, while Dake has won three national titles at three different weights and is in pursuit of an historic fourth. The matches are great for the sport and could be talked about for decades to come.
1. Pursuit of Greatness
In the 103-year history of Penn State wrestling, the Nittany Lions have produced three two-time national champions: Andy Matter, Jeff Prescott and Kerry McCoy. That list could double this season with David Taylor, Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright all looking for a second title. Taylor and Ruth are coming off dominating undefeated seasons and looking to stamp their mark as legends in the sport. Wright is also looking to become the first-ever Penn State wrestler to be a four-time All-American and a two-time national champion. Combine that with the opportunity for Penn State to match or exceed its record for most falls in a season, most finalists, most Big Ten champions, most NCAA champions, etc. and you realize this is a team that is truly pursuing a special place in history, both as individuals and collectively as a team.
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