Jeff Byers: Wrestling Excitement and Excellence Soon Returns
With football season heating up and baseball season getting ready to wrap up (or in the case of the Pirates, ending a month ago), October is an exciting time for sports fans.
While the spotlight shines on football and baseball and on golf and NASCAR and on volleyball and soccer locally, the Nittany Lion wrestling team is toiling away in the bowels of Rec Hall. The team is coming off back to back Big Ten and NCAA championship seasons. But the best may be yet to come.
Penn State may be ready to unleash a team that can rank with the best of all time. Sure, it’s a little early to be making any proclamations but it’s also foolish to not acknowledge the potential that is there. This is a team that, if healthy, will feature seven legitimate national title contenders. More than that, this team could be one of the most entertaining to ever take to the collegiate mats.
The aggressiveness of Nico Megaludis, the pinning acumen of Andrew Alton, the explosive power of Dylan Alton, the artistry of David Taylor, the relentlessness of Matt Brown, the uncanny instincts and athletic prowess of Ed Ruth, the slick array of thrilling throws of Quentin Wright - they will all be on display during Penn State’s dual meets and tournaments this season.
And that’s not to mention Bryan Pearsall who has had a knack of scoring big points in duals and Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich, who could emerge as real factors at heavyweight or any one of several contenders at 133 pounds. This is a team that could produce three to five Hodge Trophy candidates this season. The firepower and the fireworks this team could offer may be unprecedented.
Rivalries are always important and Penn State has some good ones this season with Lehigh, Iowa and Ohio State among the teams Penn State will renew acquaintances with this season. But there are some individual rivalries brewing that could add to the passion for fans across the nation this season.
Rivalries help fuel interest in a sport and help inspire athletes and coaches to excel. Having somebody who is your equal or more always brings out the best in a competitor. We saw it with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in boxing, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in tennis and in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in basketball. Well, wrestling fans may see a rivalry this season that will be among the most epic in the sport’s history.
Rarely do we get to see legends meet in their prime. Such will be the case when Penn State’s David Taylor meets Cornell’s Kyle Dake at this year’s NWCA All-Star Classic to open the season on Saturday, November 3rd at American University in Washington D.C.
Perhaps no match this season is as anticipated as the NWCA All-Star meet’s featured bout at 165 pounds. These are arguably the two biggest names in the collegiate ranks right now with resumes that already assure they will go down as two of the greats at their respective schools if not the entire sport.
David Taylor is one move away from being perfect in college. He is 70-1 in his collegiate career through two seasons with his only loss coming in the NCAA finals his freshman season when he was caught and pinned on a slick counter to a takedown attempt.
Taylor won the Hodge Trophy last season, college wrestling’s Heisman equivalent. Kyle Dake is on the brink of becoming just the third four-time NCAA champion in history – a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that he has won his first three titles at a different weight and is moving up again this season. Dake is also looking to become the first four-time champion to never redshirt. Dake has a career record of 100-4.
This could be the first of three potential meeting between two long-time friends collegiately. Dake did defeat Taylor at the U-S Olympic Trials this summer in freestyle but the two could potentially meet at both the Southern Scuffle tournament and the NCAA Championships later this season. The buzz will likely only grow with each subsequent meeting. They both deserve credit for accepting the challenge.
Cael Sanderson is constantly talking to his wrestlers about being willing to take risks, to go out and wrestle aggressively and not fear making a mistake. His team is obviously buying in.
Nico Megaludis could have redshirted this season but he wants to face Matt McDonough, the three-time NCAA finalist and two-time NCAA champion again and knows this will be his last chance to do so in intercollegiate competition.
A new season is just a month away and Penn State fans should buckle up because this season could provide one thrilling moment after another.
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