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Penn State Wrestling: As Iowa Returns to Rec Hall, Nittany Lions Eager for Rematch

by on January 18, 2012 11:11 AM

Almost a year ago, hype surrounding the match-up between then-No. 1 Penn State and No. 8 Iowa was unparalleled, at least when compared to anything else that happened in Nittany Lions wrestling the last few years.

But Iowa quickly sunk the ship that sailed 6,686 fans into Rec Hall, as Matt McDonough's fall for the Hawkeyes at 125 pounds transitioned into Nittany Lion losses at 133 and 141 pounds. Those losses put the Lions in a quick 12-0 hole, one they were unable to recover from.

"I think I learned a lot from last year's match. I think my mentality was, 'Let's go out there and fight them.' But that kind of played right in to their game plan," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said of last year's 22-13 victory by Iowa.

Penn State's line-up will look a bit different this go-round, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in Rec Hall. But Iowa will return all three of its stud lower-weight line-up. That includes McDonough, ranked second at 125 pounds; sophomore Tony Ramos, also ranked second at 133 pounds; and Montell Marion, who is ranked third in the country at 141 pounds and pulled a shocking 11-9 upset over then-fifth-ranked Andrew Alton a year ago.

That being said, Sanderson has no intention of starting the match at a different weight through a random draw, and will opt to start the match at the normal 125-pound weight class.

"I have full confidence in Nico and our lower weights to go out there and get the job done, so that's absolutely our plan to start at 125," he said.

Megaludis will certainly have his work cut out for him come the opening horn Sunday, as McDonough is 19-1 on the season, with his lone loss coming to Jesse Delgado. Delgado is currently ranked fifth in the nation by Intermat, out of Illinois.

"I definitely want to wrestle him, because we have a little bit of a history," Megaludis said.

For Penn State to come away with its fourth Big 10 win, the lower weights will have to weather the storm early and put the Nittany Lions in a good position late to pick up bonus points once the trio of David Taylor, Ed Ruth and Quentin Wright get to the mat at 165, 174 and 189, respectively.

But there's another key to the early puzzle, and that will come right before the intermission. Dylan Alton, who has wrestled exceptionally against top-notch competition thus far, is still unsure who the Hawkeyes will send out at 157. Derek St. John is ranked second in the weight class, but has been out with an unspecified leg injury since the team's Dec. 8 match against Northern Iowa.

If St. John is unable to wrestle, Nick Moore will be the likely filler for the Hawkeyes at 157. But according to Penn State's Frank Molinaro, wrestling St. John would provide another opportunity to get the big win that has been alluding Alton.

"Dylan's been wrestling great against some of the best guys in the country," Molinaro said of Alton's recent stretch. It has included third-ranked Jason Welch of Northwestern and first-ranked Kyle Dake of Cornell in the Southern Scuffle finals.

"You saw Nico get that big type of win against Mele of Northwestern, and now Dylan just needs one of those, too, but he's wrestling great," Molinaro said.

Though the level of hype Sunday will be unmatched by any other Penn State dual during the regular season, it's still business as usual for the Lions. They should be the freshest they've been all season, with a week without a match leading into the showdown.

"It's nice to be back in the room and be on our own schedule and routine again, because the travel certainly can start to wear you down," Molinaro said.

It will be Molinaro's final match against the Hawkeyes in a blue-and-white singlet, and he, like Sanderson, is still searching for his first win against Iowa.

"This season I wanted to beat Iowa, become a four time All-American and win a national championship, and that's along the lines of what everyone in this room is focused on," Molinaro said.

Sanderson's history with Iowa coach Tom Brands is long and not exactly warm and fuzzy, but the third-year head coach is concerned not with righting his personal record against Iowa, but with the teams.

"Sure, I want to beat Iowa as badly as anybody in here," Sanderson said. "But the key is, we have 10 starters who all want to win their match and wrestling the best they can, and a bunch of guys in here that want to help them any way in the room they can to get us there."

Notes

  • While the lower weights for Iowa have all stayed intact, the upper weights have done plenty of shifting around. Ethan Lofthouse and Ed Ruth will go at it at 174 pounds after Ruth defeated Lofthouse a year ago, 10-3, but it will be Morgan McIntosh -- not Quentin Wright -- who gets a shot at Grant Gambrall this year at 197 pounds. While Sanderson said he, Wright and McIntosh haven't discussed tactics from the match a year ago, it wouldn't be surprising to see McIntosh attempt to avoid the rideout situation that handed Lofthouse well more than 2:30 in riding time a year ago.
  • Frank Martellotti and Bryan Pearsall will join Megaludis in getting their first crack at Iowa's heavy-hitting lower weights, as Andrew Long is no longer with the Lions and Andrew Alton is redshirting this season. While Penn State gave up bonus points only at 125 pounds, it goes without saying a win at either 133 or 141 would go a long way in helping Penn State to victory.
  • Numerous Penn State wrestlers expressed frustration with Iowa's style that likes to work the edges of the mat, and also wrestle at a slower pace than the Nittany Lions tend to do. Sanderson said the message all week has been to cut the edges out and wrestle at the fast pace he and his coaching staff have been preaching since media day.

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Greg Pickel writes for StateCollege.com and Onward State. He's on Twitter as @GregPickel.
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