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Penn State Wrestling: Long Journey To Reach Big Ten Championships

by on March 02, 2012 1:53 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and his staff talk all the time about enjoying the journey.

Each season begins with new stories waiting to unfold. This year’s team is looking for a second consecutive Big Ten championship after a successful 13-1 dual meet campaign.

The Nittany Lions journey, which begins Saturday, has been filled with many twists and turns, but the actual journey to Purdue University provided some insight as to what makes this team so special.

The nearly 550-mile journey here got under way a couple of minutes after 11 a.m. Thursday as the Fullington Bus pulled away from Rec Hall with 25 people on board.

Along with coaches Cael Sanderson, Cody Sanderson, Casey Cunningham and Aaron Anspach, the bus also hauled trainer Dan Monthley, strength and conditioning coach Shawn Contos, team psychologist Dr. Dave Yukelson, team doctor Paul Sherbondy and of course, me, the ever-observant radio announcer.

The 10 starters (Nico Megaludis, Frank Martellotti, Bryan Pearsall, Frank Molinaro, Dylan Alton, David Taylor, Ed Ruth, Quentin Wright, Morgan McIntosh and Cameron Wade) were joined by five additional wrestlers in Jordan Conaway, Andrew Alton, Dirk Cowburn, Matt Brown and Clay Steadman.

Director of Operations Adam Lynch and Sports Information contact Pat Donghia flew out separately and will return with the others on the bus on Monday. So, Penn State has 27 overall in its travel party for the Big Ten championships this weekend, including the driver.

There was a lot of banter on the bus early in the trip Thursday. As “The Tourist,” with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, played on the DVD player, some wrestlers chatted, some read books, some played games and others watched a movie.

At about 2 p.m., the bus pulled off on Exit 226 of Interstate 80 and the team departed for lunch at a Subway restaurant. There was an easy-going feel to the team as it downed some needed fuel for the body.

The team piled back on to the bus at about 2:40 p.m. and the journey continued.

Shortly after 5 p.m., the bus pulled into the Koehler Fitness and Rec Complex on the campus of the University of Findlay in Ohio. The Division II program has been under the direction of former Penn State All-American Shawn Nelson for the past 15 years and Nelson was there to greet the team and show them to the practice room. Nelson now has three kids of his own and is getting six of the Roughnecks wrestlers ready for the Division II Championships in Pueblo, Colorado, next week.

Frank Molinaro’s father, also named Frank, played football at Findlay and he had a chance to spend some time before the workout talking with his father’s college coach, Dick Strahm.

The wrestlers paired off and did some drills to work on their takedowns, on their aggressiveness, on their baseline defense and then a couple of live matches. The music was blaring, upbeat and the wrestlers movements were sharp. Taylor worked with Cunningham on some counter-defense. McIntosh got some work in on the mat with Coach Cael.

As the practice was winding down, Andrew Alton, who recorded a team-leading 18 pins last season and redshirted this year, started sparring with Wright, who leads the team with 12 pins this year. Assistant coach Anspach sat watching the two go at it and said: “These are the two most dangerous men in America right here.”

Wright then tried to perfect some dance moves with a little assistance from Molinaro. Wright was like the energizer bunny, breakdancing, taking people down, literally bouncing off the walls. Wade did a little dance of his own while waiting for Anspach to spar for a final go.

After some quick showers, the Penn State  wrestlers made their way back to the bus.

A short five minutes later, the bus pulled into Panera Bread, with most choosing a sandwich and salad combo.

About 30 minutes later, and the team boarded for its final destination. “Moneyball,” with Brad Pitt, was inserted into the DVD player and most watched the movie. The bus was relatively quiet, save for some complaints about the heat, causing the bus driver to turn off he heat and turn on the air conditioning very low.

Following a bathroom stop and some slow moving because of construction, the bus finally pulled in to the Courtyard Marriott here at 1:15 a.m. Friday.

While the journey back home will be a long one, the hope and guess here is that this team will be brimming with even more confidence and the mood will be even better.

This is a team that is enjoying the journey.

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