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Big Ten Championship: Penn State Wrestlers Struggle in Semis, Send Just Three to Finals

by on March 03, 2012 9:45 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Penn State was served a bitter reminder that anything can happen in tournament wrestling Saturday night in front of a raucous crowd at Mackey Arena.

The Nittany Lions had been breezing through the first round and quarterfinals of the Big Ten Championship and was holding off all competition with a flurry of bonus points, including four first-period falls. With eight wrestlers in the semifinals, Penn State seemed poised to at least maintain its lead, if not build on it.

But then the momentum shifted.

Minnesota and Iowa started piling up wins, including some big upsets. And Penn State started losing close matches. Dylan Alton gave up a single leg takedown to the Hawkeyes’ Derek St. John in overtime, Quentin Wright couldn’t find his offense and was an upset victim to Josh Ihnen of Nebraska, Morgan McIntosh appeared to be on the brink of a big upset but just stopped wrestling with 10 seconds left and gave up an easy takedown to Matt Powless to lose by a point.

And then the Hawkeyes surged past the Nittany Lions when Bobby Telford used a couple of reversals to defeat Cameron Wade. Tack on second-round wrestleback losses by Frank Martellotti and Bryan Pearsall and it’s fair to say the momentum, not to mention the lead, slipped from Penn State’s grasp.

The Nittany Lions, who went 3-5 in the semifinals, did have some bright spots with three wrestlers going for their second Big Ten titles, with all three winning with bonus points in the semis.

Frank Molinaro never allowed Purdue’s Ivan Lopouchanski into the bout in a 15-0 technical fall in 6:07. David Taylor controlled Illinois’ Conrad Polz from the top position in securing a 12-0 major decision and Ed Ruth got a slick ankle pick to get the major decision over Ohio State’s Nick Heflin, 15-7.

“It means a lot to me personally to be in the finals," Molinaro said. "This is just one step closer to my goal of being a national champ. I am going to cherish this moment because this is my last year."

But this is a team that will need to regroup and come out firing to take the title in what is now a three-way dogfight between the Nittany Lions, the Golden Gophers and the Hawkeyes.

Penn State has qualified eight wrestlers for the NCAA tournament and could conceivably qualify all 10. Martellotti will have a chance to secure an automatic bid if he wins his seventh-place match over Ridge Kiley of Nebraska. Kiley scored a late reversal to edge Martellotti, 4-3, in their dual meet match on Feb. 3 in Lincoln.

And although the Big Ten automatically qualifies the top five at 141 pounds, Bryan Pearsall can keep his hopes for an at-large bid alive with a win in the seventh-place match against Brandon Nelson of Purdue.

The Nittany Lions went undefeated in the tournament a year ago to edge Iowa by a point, and it will likely take a similar effort to win it again this year. Nothing will come easy, and bonus points will again figure to be at a premium.

If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. Let’s see how this entertaining team responds to the challenge. The ebb and flow of a tournament can be kind of amazing to watch and we’ll see what rolls in Sunday afternoon.

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