March Mat-Ness Finally Arrives
Every season brings new hope, new expectations and new stories.
For Penn State wrestling, this season has had its share of twists and turns and now the focus turns toward the best time of year - the NCAA Championships.
There have been some terrific battles with Jimmy Gulibon getting the starting nod over the always-improving, energizer bunny in Jordan Conaway. Jon Gingrich got the postseason nod at heavyweight and responded by knocking off the number one seed at the Big Ten tournament.
James English surged to the starting role at 149 in his final run over Penn State's deepest weight with Andrew Alton battling through shoulder injuries and Zac Beitz on the cusp of being a standout as well.
And of course, Dylan Alton held off another strong challenge from the athletic James Vollrath.
There have been some hard-fought battles with familiar and new opponents with some surprising results. Penn State fans rejoiced as they watched their true freshman star, Zain Retherford, knock off two-time national champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State with an overtime takedown that nearly took the roof off of venerable Rec Hall.
Penn State fans agonized over Ed Ruth's loss to Gabe Dean of Cornell that snapped an 84-match winning streak. They were on the edge of their seats as Nico Megaludis continued one of the best rivalries in the sport with a win and then a loss to Illinois' Jesse Delgado.
Morgan McIntosh provided a thrilling win over then-top-ranked Scott Schiller of Minnesota and there was Matt Brown with mixed results against rivals Logan Storley of Minnesota and Mike Evans of Iowa and another heart-breaking loss to defending national champion Chris Perry.
All of these battles and the many more that occurred all season long, have helped prepare the team for what awaits in Oklahoma City.
The regular season provided plenty of memories. There was the record-setting sellout crowd and the great theater of the win over Pittsburgh at the Jordan Center. There was the emotional trip to Boston University to try to help save a program in front of a sellout crowd that showed its appreciation for the sport and the athletes in maybe the most meaningful meet of the season.
There was the joy and relief after finally getting a victory at Iowa and the frustration and disappointment in yet another hard-fought loss at Minnesota. Getting the chance to see Oklahoma State visit Rec Hall and getting a big win over the Cowboys to boot was special. Capturing another Southern Scuffle title was significant and winning a fourth straight conference title in a back-and-forth battle with Iowa was sweet.
But the biggest memories of any season, both good and bad, are made at the NCAA tournament. The last three seasons have certainly brought special moments with Quentin Wright's improbable run to the title as a redshirt sophomore and the signature moment of that first team championship with the pin over the Hawkeyes' Grant Gambrall in the semifinals.
There was Dylan Alton blazing to a third place finish, Nico Megaludis overcoming multiple losses to three higher seeded opponents and advancing to the finals as a true freshman. David Taylor was stunned by Bubba Jenkins and edged by Kyle Dake. David Taylor also blazed his way to a title with a record-setting performance in the finals after four pins.
Ed Ruth dominated Nick Amuchestegui to avenge his only NCAA tournament loss and claim his first title. There have been many other moments etched into the memory banks of the fans over the last three seasons.
Ten wrestlers will try to bring home a fourth consecutive national championship and three seniors will be the leading the way.
If you are looking for the inspirational leader, James English would be your man. James has overcome chronic neck and back problems to earn his first NCAA tournament berth as a sixth-year senior.
If you are looking for the cool, confident leader, Ed Ruth would be your man. "Easy" Ed seems to be unfazed by anything going on around him. He methodically picks his opponents apart and when he is "on," is virtually impossible to stop with his relentless attack and he's even harder to get away from as he can ride with the best of them. And, of course, you always have to be looking for the signature cross-face cradle that has become his trademark.
And if you are looking for the emotional leader, David Taylor would be your man. Taylor wears his heart on his sleeve and has provided the spark that has allowed the championship flame to burn brightly throughout his college career. Taylor is one of the great artists at his craft and has saved his best for the NCAA tournament. In each of the last two seasons, Taylor has pinned his way to the finals. He also scored more points in his title-winning match two years ago than any wrestler in NCAA history.
The wait for the NCAA tournament is nearly over and a lifetime of memories for the athletes and their families, the coaches and of course, the fans, are about to be created. Hope renewed, expectations realized or not met and stories that will be told for years to come. Three days of March Mat-ness and we can hardly wait to see what will happen.