Last year at this time, Bald Eagle Area High School grad Jon Gingrich was dealing with the sting of being told he wouldn’t represent Penn State in the postseason.
Channeling that frustration and anger helped Gingrich earn the nod at 285 pounds as No. 1 Penn State tries to win its fourth consecutive Big Ten championship on Saturday and Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
“I think at first it kind of set me back a little bit. Then, I finally realized if I use it the right way it would definitely help motivate me,” Gingrich said at Penn State’s Big Ten Media Day on Monday.
“I’m very excited. To want to be there last year and not get a chance and now get a chance to be there is something you can’t really put into words. It’s true excitement. I can’t wait to get out there and compete.”
All 10 Nittany Lions have been pre-seeded in the top eight at their respective weights: 125, Nico Megaludis (No. 1); 133, Jimmy Gulibon (No. 7); 141, Zain Retherford (No. 1); 149, James English (No. 7); 157, Dylan Alton (No. 5); 165, David Taylor (No. 1); 174, Matt Brown (No. 2); 184, Ed Ruth (No. 1); 197, Morgan McIntosh (No. 1); 285, Gingrich (No. 8).
I think our guys are ready to go. This is obviously a huge weekend for us. To have the opportunity at nationals, we have to have a good weekend this weekend,” head coach Cael Sanderson said.
“We need to move all of our guys through and set themselves up with as good a seeds as possible. Our guys are ready. We’re very confident in our plan.”
Sanderson said Gingrich got the nod because regular-season starter Jimmy Lawson, who hurt a knee during the Northwestern dual on Jan. 19, showed in the Feb. 23 dual against Clarion that his knee wasn’t healthy enough to compete in the postseason.
Sixth-year senior English got the nod at 149. Redshirt freshman Zack Beitz was the starter most of the season, subbing in for last year’s starter, Andrew Alton. Alton was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Late in the season, Sanderson said, the team held wrestle-offs and English won.
“He’s earned the right to compete and wrestle for Penn State. If anybody has, James English has. When he’s feeling good, he’s very good,” Sanderson said.
For English, who has struggled with injuries his entire Penn State career, it’s the culmination of career-long goal.
“I want to be a national champion. That’s what I’ve been training for. I’ve had some injuries, so I’ve been out. I’m just trying to make a comeback here at the end of the year,” he said.
“I’m super excited. This is what I’ve been working for all six years. I’m glad to be able to go out there and finally give it a shot. I came back because I thought I could be the guy at the end of the year and be the guy to win nationals. I didn’t come back to be a cheerleader on the bench.”
For two other Nittany Lions, seniors Taylor and Ruth, this tournament is a chance to win their fourth Big Ten titles.
“The Big Ten is not just another tournament. It’s a pretty special tournament,” Taylor said.
“There’s no doubt I want to win the Big Tens and help our team win a fourth (straight) Big Ten title. There aren’t too many people who can say they contributed to four Big Ten titles.”
Ruth said he wanted to emerge from Big Tens as healthy as possible and, “I just want to go out there and put on a really good show.”
For freshman 141-pounder Zain Retherford, who finished the season at 26-0, just like Taylor, this is a new experience. Nevertheless, he said he plans to treat it like every other match all season.
“You just take one match at a time and stay focused on what’s ahead of you,” he said.
If the seeds hold, Retherford will meet two-time defending NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State in the final. Retherford defeated Stieber, 4-2 in overtime during the Dec. 15 dual meet.
“It’s a little tough not to look ahead. But as long as you’re focused on the task at hand, the task at hand is winning the first match and moving forward, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said.
Gingrich said he’s also trying to narrow his focus to just wrestling and what he needs to do to win.
“I honestly took away my social media and Facebook so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I haven’t been on Twitter or anything like that. I’m just focusing on what I need to do,” he said.
“I think it helps you not focus on what other people are saying. You’re more focused on what you need. Also, more thoughts in your head is more stress.”
Here’s a weight-by-weight look at this year’s tournament:
125 pounds: Some would say this is a three-horse race. Others will tell you there are just two contenders. The truth is it’s Nico Megaludis and whoever emerges from the other bracket, and that will be interesting to see. Illinois’ Jesse Delgado, the defending NCAA champion, is seeded second behind Megaludis. Those two should meet in the finals, like they did in last year’s NCAAs. Delgado made his mark last year by thrashing the then-defending NCAA champion, Iowa’s Matt McDonough, 10-4 in the finals.
Dark horse: Cory Clark, Iowa.
Prediction: Nico Megaludis, Penn State.
133 pounds: This weight belongs to Iowa’s Tony Ramos now that Ohio State’s Logan Stieber moved up to 141. If anyone can challenge Ramos, it will be Graff. However, Graff historically hasn’t been able to match Ramos’ raging intensity.
Dark horse: Tyler Graff, Wisconsin.
Prediction: Tony Ramos, Iowa.
141 pounds: If things work out as expected, a rematch 11 weeks in the making should take place Sunday afternoon. Penn State’s top seeded true freshman Zain Retherford announced to the nation on Dec. 15 in Rec Hall that he was potentially next in the recent line of Penn State greats when he upset two-time defending NCAA champion Logan Stieber, 4-2 in overtime. Stieber has surely been spoiling for a rematch ever since. Retherford has had a remarkable season, but until proven otherwise, Stieber is the champ.
Dark horse: Zain Retherford, Penn State.
Prediction: Logan Stieber, Ohio State.
149 pounds: This is perhaps the conference’s least flashy weight. Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn has earned the top seed. Minnesota’s Nick Dardanes or Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis should meet the Husker in the final. However, Penn State’s James English, if his health holds, is a conference unknown who could make some noise.
Dark horse: Jason Tsirtsis, Northwestern.
Prediction: Jake Sueflohn, Nebraska.
157 pounds: The defending NCAA champion is seeded fourth, a freshman is seeded first and a pair of two-time All-Americans are in between. Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan was the flavor of the month in February after he knocked off, in successive matches, No. 1 James Green of Nebraska on Feb. 21 and No. 2 Derek St. John of Iowa on Feb. 23. So, Jordan is seeded first. Joining Green in the middle is Minnesota’s Dylan Ness. Until he proves he’s back to his 2011-12 form, he’s on the outside looking in at this group. Any of the four could take home the title, but St. John usually shines when the stakes are highest.
Dark horse: Dylan Ness, Minnesota.
Prediction: Derek St. John, Iowa.
165 pounds: Unless illness or injury befall Penn State’s David Taylor, this weight belongs to the Nittany Lion. If Iowa’s Nick Moore emerges from the other half of the draw, he could force Taylor to wrestle a full seven minutes. Still, Taylor should claim his fourth Big Ten title.
Dark horse: Nick Moore, Iowa.
Prediction: David Taylor, Penn State.
174 pounds: Any of four supremely talented wrestlers could win this weight. Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh earned the No.1 seed. Penn State defending conference champ Matt Brown is seeded second. Iowa’s Mike Evans is third and Minnesota’s Logan Storley is the fourth seed. Brown erased regular-season doubts by winning this weight last year. The path figures to be more difficult this year, but he’s proven to be a gamer.
Dark horse: Logan Storley, Minnesota.
Prediction: Matt Brown, Penn State.
184 pounds: Like his teammate, Taylor, Penn State’s Ed Ruth is gunning for his fourth Big Ten championship. History tells us only Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus has a shot at keeping it close against Ruth. Since an upset loss in the Southern Scuffle final on Jan. 2., Ruth has looked like a man intent on proving that loss was a fluke.
Dark horse: Kevin Steinhaus, Minnesota.
Prediction: Ed Ruth, Penn State.
197 pounds: This is Morgan McIntosh’s weight to lose. The Penn State redshirt sophomore separated himself from the field during an undefeated Big Ten season. He’s wrestling with a confidence and athleticism that will be hard for anyone to match. Ohio State’s Nick Heflin is seeded second, but third-seeded Scott Schiller of Minnesota could be McIntosh’s finals opponent. McIntosh beat him in the dual meet, 8-4.
Dark horse: Scott Schiller, Minnesota.
Prediction: Morgan McIntosh, Penn State.
285 pounds: It tells you something about the depth of a weight when the two-time defending NCAA champion is seeded fifth, and a true freshman is seeded first. That’s life at heavyweight in the Big Ten. Minnesota’s Tony Nelson is the two-time defending NCAA champion who is seeded fifth, behind No. 1 seed Adam Coon of Michigan. Indiana’s Adam Chalfant, Northwestern’s Mike McMullan and Iowa’s Bobby Telford are two through four. Any of those five could win, but a champ is the champ until he’s officially dethroned.
Dark horse: Adam Coon, Michigan.
Prediction: Tony Nelson, Minnesota.
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