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NCAA Wrestling Championships: Penn State Building Dynasty on Mat

by on March 18, 2012 7:00 AM

ST. LOUIS — The reason most of us watch sports is because we want to see greatness, or something special, or history being made.

The Penn State wrestling team gave its fans all three in capturing its second consecutive national championship.

All coaches and athletes try to peak at the end of the year. The Nittany Lions did. Even Bryan Pearsall, who did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, wrestled his best at the end of the season.

At the NCAA tournament, only senior heavyweight Cameron Wade failed to wrestle up to his seed, as he fell in the Round of 12 for a second consecutive year.

Nico Megaludis, Quentin Wright and Dylan Alton outplaced their seeding. Top seeds Frank Molinaro, David Taylor and Ed Ruth wrestled up to their lofty expectations.

Penn State avenged several regular season losses along the way and made all kinds of history. Penn State set a new school scoring record with 143 points.

The Nittany Lions had just their fourth-ever true freshman earn All-America honors, as Megaludis joined Cary Kolat as the only true freshmen NCAA finalists for Penn State.

Molinaro became just the fifth four-time All-American in program history and the first champion at 149 pounds.

Penn State had never had more than three NCAA finalists in a season (2011, 1999 and 1993) before sending five to the finals this year. Penn State had two champions in one season twice (1984 and 1955) but had never had more than two until the three that earned titles Saturday night (Molinaro, Taylor and Ruth).

Frank Martellotti certainly saved his best performances for the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, earning a bid to St. Louis with a seventh-place finish at the Big Tens and going 1-2 in his NCAA debut. Morgan McIntosh succumbed to a knee problem and the grind of being a true freshman wrestling on the other side of the country from his home. But McIntosh was still wrestling hard as he also went 1-2 in his NCAA debut.

Perhaps the heartbreak of the NCAA tournament was Wade, who reached the Round of 12 for the second-straight year, ending his career without All-America honors but with some memorable wins and moments along the way.  

This team has thrived on the thrill of competition, genuinely enjoying the opportunity to match skills and wit with the best the sport has to offer. It is a team that prepared — physically and mentally — to win another championship. The Nittany Lions executed their gameplan with entertaining precision.

The champions all made their mark with an independent style that was at the same time symbolic of the Penn State way under coach Cael Sanderson. Molinaro gutted out the title at 149 pounds battling through a knee injury to beat Minnesota freshman Dylan Ness.  

“Nothing ever comes easy for me,” Molinaro said. “But this feels real good. I know how much I put into this and how much this means and it’s really the first time in my life that I’ve felt satisfied.”

Taylor scored five seconds in the opening period and put on a takedown clinic in defeating Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh by techinical fall, 22-7 in 5:55. Taylor previously recorded four falls in four bouts to get to the finals. He improves to 70-1 in his collegiate career.

“It feels good,” Taylor said. “I knew what I wanted to do and I did it. It really feels good to do it with my teammates and to win the national (team) championship again.”

Ruth avenged his quarterfinal loss in last year’s tournament to Nick Amuchestegui of Stanford with a dominating 13-2 major decision. Ruth controlled the bout from the outset and never allowed Amuchestegui to get any offense going.

“The individual thing really doesn’t mean that much to me,” Ruth said. “It’s really cool that we won the team championship. I’d much rather win that because it means we’re all able to enjoy it.”

Penn State has a strong wrestling tradition and a proud history, but there is no doubt that these are the glory days for the program. The fans are thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to root for one of the truly special teams in the history of the sport.

This is a team that figures to be even better next year, and the juggernaut that many envisioned when Sanderson took over the program has now officially arrived and is showing no signs of slowing down.

We are witnessing history, and it sure is a fun watch. 

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