Great Enough: The Heart and Soul of Penn State's Championship Wrestling Team
These are special days for the Penn State wrestling program. The Nittany Lions are winning titles, rewriting the record books and having a whole lot of fun in the process.
There have been three straight national titles, three straight Big Ten championships and plenty of individual titles and accolades as well. All ten wrestlers qualified for the NCAA tournament this season and all ten contributed to the scoring for the Nittany Lions at the national tournament.
And yet, even in these greatest of times for the program, it wasn’t enough for three wrestlers. It is the nature of sports and it is the essence of wrestling. The time and dedication, the skill and athleticism, the courage and the work - sometimes it is still not enough in the end.
For three Penn State wrestlers, the dream of winning an individual title was agonizingly close to being realized but it eluded each. They got to the finals and they wrestled well but it was not enough.
Nico Megaludis looked like he was the victim of a vicious mugging. His face was black and blue with cuts and bruises covering it. Megaludis advanced to the finals for the second straight season and the true sophomore from Murrysville was wrestling a fantastic bout against Illinois’ Jesse Delgado. Megaludis was the aggressor, was staying in good position and was poised to get that one takedown that would give him the championship. But Megaludis got caught while trying to convert a single leg and Delgado was able to cradle him and went on to pick up the 7-4 win. Megaludis wrestled an outstanding bout for well over six minutes, but it was not enough.
Matt Brown was also aggressive throughout his match with Chris Perry, shooting in repeatedly as Perry fended off one shot after another. After battling to a 1-1 tie through three periods and the sudden victory period, Perry was able to get the escape and Brown was not able to quite get away from Perry. A very tough one-point tiebreaker loss for the redshirt sophomore ended one of the great postseason runs for Penn State. Brown had claimed the Big Ten title and advanced to the NCAA finals after going into the postseason as the number five seed in the conference tournament. But in the end, it was not enough.
David Taylor wrestled in a bout considered so epic that the NCAA changed the order of the finals so that Taylor’s bout with Kyle Dake would be the finale. Taylor came out and got the initial takedown but Dake was able to ride for the majority of the third period and fend off a late takedown attempt at the edge of the mat to pick up his fourth title, at his fourth different weight, for Cornell. Taylor was convinced he would win and did everything he could. But it was not enough.
Nico Megaludis, David Taylor and Matt Brown all come from great families, great wrestling backgrounds, great environments. All three showed improvement, continued to develop and wrestled their best in the NCAA tournament. All three are leaders on a remarkable Penn State team.
But it’s not enough. Their opponents were able to get the one point, the one move that made the difference. And it was devastating for the three of them because they wanted it so badly. All three put their heart and soul into making sure they were ready for the moment and all three came up short of their goal - it just wasn’t enough.
Okay, enough already.
These three young men honor their sport, their coaches, their school and their families in the way they represent themselves on the mat. Head coach Cael Sanderson talks about the process, about the choices his wrestlers need to make each day. Well, these three men choose to become better wrestlers, better people, better leaders, each day. These three men knew they were going to win because they had prepared to win. They trained the right way, they prepared the right way, and when the came time, they went out and wrestled the right way.
Winning is the desired result of the process they went through. And while it’s true they didn’t win their individual title bouts and each will tell you finishing second isn’t good enough, the truth is, it was enough.
These three young men helped lead their team to a third consecutive championship and they did it by wrestling with aggressiveness, with heart, with passion. Megaludis, Brown and Taylor represent the very best of what college wrestling is about. There isn’t a parent out there who wouldn’t be proud to call these men their son. There isn’t a coach out there who wouldn’t be thrilled to have the chance to work with them. There isn’t a team out there that wouldn’t love to have each of them representing their university and program and wouldn’t love to have any of them as a teammate.
These are three men of great character and the best part of the story is that all three will be back to pursue their dreams next season.
But these three young men - these losers for Penn State in the finals - are the winners that helped Penn State reach its team goal this season. These three men are, in fact, champions.