Jeff Byers: What I Think We Learned From the Past Weekend of Wrestling
Penn State needs to have a match at the Jordan Center each season.
With a pep band and cheerleaders on hand, the Iowa wrestling team defeated Penn State on Friday night in front of more than 15,000 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The fans were mostly clad in black for the so-called blackout. It was a scene and anyone attending felt they were at a big sports event. There was an electricity in the air and yes, the athletes put on a terrific show in their own right, but the whole production had the feel of an important event. It was a big deal.
Perhaps Penn State could bring some traditional elements of college wrestling with the presence of cheerleaders, or a pep band, or something other than piped in music. Rec Hall is still the best venue for college wrestling in my mind, but having a big match each season held at the Jordan Center would serve to help grow the sport and to allow some of the casual sports fans an opportunity to see one of the great shows in college sports right now.
The Nittany Lions need to look at their schedule next season, figure out the biggest home match and then go all out to market the event and try to set the all-time wrestling dual meet attendance record. With a team that figures to be one of the most entertaining in the history of the sport, Penn State should not have much trouble selling out one dual meet at the Jordan Center.
Iowa is still Iowa.
Make no mistake, the paradigm has shifted in college wrestling with Cael Sanderson’s tenure at Penn State. But the Hawkeyes are still something special in the sport, and the passion for the sport there is something to be admired. And the truth is, the sport needs Iowa and Oklahoma State to be relevant to be at its best. It doesn’t need them winning championships, mind you, but it needs them to be up there with the big boys.
You never know ...
One of the great things in sports is that the unexpected can and does happen. David Taylor was cruising to another bonus-point victory, putting the finishing touches on another dominating victory, when he got caught and nearly pinned. You just never know when something special is going to happen.
Then again, something special happens just about every time Taylor takes the mat.
Jordan Conaway deserves to be ranked.
I realize he got pinned and looked overmatched Friday night, but he responded with a rousing victory over a legitimate All-America candidate on Sunday and has now knocked off two top-eight opponents.
Conaway is the only freshman in the lineup but has turned a concern into a real strength for the team.
Nico Megaludis can win a championship this season.
The 125-pound class is always a loaded group and Matt McDonough is clearly the favorite, but Megaludis was very close to finishing two takedowns and is on the cusp of becoming the man to beat at this weight.
Quentin Wright is going to be missed.
Wright has been a phenomenal representative of the program and a leader from his first day on the team. With two more wins on the weekend, Wright is 20-0 in his senior season and is now sitting on 104 career wins.
He has persevered through some tough times and his legacy as one of the all-time greats at Penn State is secure.
Heavyweight might not be settled.
Then again, maybe it is.
Jon Gingrich looked lackluster Friday night but may have been a little under the weather. Jimmy Lawson had a solid performance Sunday against an out-matched opponent. Settling this spot and getting the most from it in the postseason is the last part of the puzzle.
Bryan Pearsall is going to qualify for his first NCAA tournament.
This is not set in stone, but Pearsall bounced back from a disappointing performance Friday night with another strong effort on Sunday to improve to 6-1 in Big Ten duals. Pearsall is also back to a .500 record for his career at 48-48. Not too shabby for a kid who struggled through a 3-23 record his freshman season.
Wrestling is alive and well.
Not only did the Penn State-Iowa dual draw more than 15,000 in Iowa City on Friday night, but more than 6,400 turned out in Columbia, Mo. to watch the Tigers battle Oklahoma State and a full house was on hand at Oak Harbor High School to watch Ohio State down Illinois. All of which is evidence that wrestling doesn’t need a National Dual Championship to be the championship event to turn out for meets.
Fans, athletes and coaches still look at dual meets as important events with the postseason tournaments being the championship events. There’s nothing wrong with that.