Wrestling Season: It Begins

Ed: bumped for awesomeness. #FOURPEAT --CG

Today marks the first day of Penn State wrestling practice in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. It's also the first day of my Winter Beard. Both events are immensely important to the coming year's wrestling season. Practice, you see, helps wrestlers become even more awesome than they already are and the same goes for my beard. It will give me something more to scratch thoughtfully as I ponder the immensity of accomplishments sure to appear on Penn State Wrestling's historical ledger this season. But before we get into that, a quick look back is in order.

Tale of Two Offseasons

The Summer of 2012 saw a fair bit of division within the D1 college wrestling community. While Cael Sanderson was in London coaching Nittany Lion Wrestling Club star Jake Varner to an Olympic Gold medal, one-time State College resident and current Cornell coach Rob Koll was busy shadily holding hand-raising votes to change the determinants of the D1 collegiate team National Champion. There then ensued a fair bit of verbal slap-fighting among otherwise studly men, until February rolled around.

Two things happened that month. On February 12, it was announced that the International Olympic Committee had voted to drop wrestling from its list of the 25 'core sports.' And on February 24, a single dual meet in New Jersey between Penn State and Rutgers outdrew the attendance of the NWCA National Duals tournament finals in Minnesota the night before. The latter effectively put an end to the Koll camp's silly notion that a duals tourney should determine the team National Champion and the former was so unexpectedly shocking and frightening that it steeled the hearts and minds of some already steely men and women and instigated a unity not seen in decades within the international and American wrestling communities.

Amateur Wrestling News and Intermat, two of the three major wrestling media outlets, avoided the previous summer's bitchy twitter fights and Billy Baldwin and Jay Mohr, among others, chipped in with star power support. Whatever your feelings of Mohr may be, if you're in any way a wrestling fan, I guarantee you will get something positive out of his epic rant against the IOC's decision on Fox radio, transcribed here.

The world team trials, to determine who would represent the United States at the World Championships in Budapest in September, were exciting, as both FILA, wrestling's international governing body, and USA Wrestling experimented with changing the Freestyle rules to inspire more offensive and exciting wrestling. Penn State wrestlers excelled at the University Nationals, highlighted by an Ed Ruth technical fall over former Cornell heel Cam Simaz in the finals. As a result of those performances, Ruth, David Taylor and Nico Megaludis traveled to Kazan, Russia for the University World Championships, where Taylor earned a bronze medal along with American heavyweight Tyrell Fortune.

It was fun to see BHGP land a podcast interview with Hawkeye legend Brent Metcalf. And the most exciting and unifying news of this offseason occurred on the scheduling front, where longtime rivals Cael Sanderson and Tom Brands took to the tweeter to ameliorate the B1G's shortcoming by scheduling a December Penn State - Iowa dual meet at Carver Hawkeye Arena.

Wrestlers are better than you

Of all the excellent things (like beards) that come with the end of the offseason and the start of wrestling practice today, my personal favorite is being reminded, again, just how awesome wrestlers are. Wrestlers are better than you and me. They do more. They're more disciplined. They're stronger, fitter. They can go longer. And they probably put the most distance between us when we're all tired. When others are fatiguing, that's when a wrestler's superiority shines most brightly. And if we take any solace in knowing we don't have to compete against them, we shouldn't. They're everywhere, and you're probably getting your ass kicked by them right now. Because they work harder than you do.

But don't despair. We can learn from them! Be inspired by them. Watch and listen to them and maybe take just a fraction of what you consumed and see if you can apply just a teenie bit of that into your day today. Or tomorrow. Or AND tomorrow. Because whatever it is that wrestlers do, they do it every. single. day.

You want a road map? Start here. Isaiah Hankel is a cell biologist who grew up in Spokane, came to Pennsylvania to wrestle and study at Lancaster's F&M College and then went to Iowa City to get his PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. He's one of 'those guys.' Guys who push as a matter of being. Guys whose DNA, if translated by a geneticist, would spell out M.O.V.E. His blog is an amalgam of motivation, suggestion, positivity and self-improvement. It's fun to consume, even if you're only likely to use a small portion of it. And his 120 Things Wrestling Taught Me About Business Success is a very, very fun read. I particularly dig how he begins the list:

1. It’s an individual sport – the only way to be successful in anything from wrestling to starting a business is to worry about yourself first. If you’re a mess, your relationships will be a mess. If you’re weak, you’re business will be weak. The only way for your team to win is for you to be a winner.

2. It’s a team sport – No one gets successful all on their own. At some point, someone helped you; someone coached you. Acknowledge it.

What he said. So are you all jacked up for the wrestling season? Ready to pour your energy into watching and listening to young studs be studly and hope you get something--anything--out of it? Ready to watch Penn State chase a fourth consecutive National Championship? You are? Well then let's see how the experts think they're going to look.

Preseason Rankings

I'm sure the BSD wrestling team will have plenty of good previews coming up this month, and I see that the Pants has brought on a new wrestling writer in anticipation of what is shaping up to be an amazing season of competition. The NWCA has assembled another excellent Allstar Match I plan to attend in November, and I should have a writeup of the matchups here for you soon, now that all the weights appear to be officially finalized.

But what are Penn State's prospects for team and individual glory? Most media outlets believe the Nittany Lions should again be favored in the team race, but all of them have it scored a lot closer than I personally believe it will be. Which brings us to the perennial offseason message board debate about what, exactly, rankings are intended to convey. The last couple years have seen a slowly building consensus that rankings are not predictions; they are strictly resume-based and represent a wrestler's body of results to date. Most agree not to consider Freestyle results in their Folkstyle ranks, but some will admit to considering results from a couple years ago, in the cases where a wrestler is returning from competition hiatus, like at 174 this year. I plan to track the major ranking services in one sheet and update it through the season (like the Penn State Wrestling Club's site does).

Despite losing only two starters to graduation, Penn State's starting lineup still has a few question marks that make it tougher for services to provide preseason ranks, namely:

1. 141. Will true freshman World Champion Zain Retherford wrestle, or will he redshirt and give way to RSFR Zach Beitz?

2. HWT. Can Jimmy Lawson hold off not only Jon Gingrich, who challenged him tightly all year and knocked off a few All-Americans, but also Nick Ruggear, who returns from injury this year?

3. 149. Andrew Alton is recovering from summer shoulder surgery. 6th year Senior James English will likely start the year. When will Alton be ready? Can he knock English off and regain the starting position before March?

4. 157. Dylan Alton, same thing--his torn labrum was surgically corrected in early Summer. 5th year Senior James Vollrath will likely start the year. When will Alton be ready?

I'm guessing that Retherford will redshirt, that Lawson's ceiling is higher than the other two and that he will be much closer to it this year in beating them both out, and that both Altons will be starting by the January 12 dual meet vs. Purdue in Rec Hall, if not by the Southern Scuffle over New Years. The ranking services have more access than I do of course, so their lineup intel may be pretty good. Still, some of them, for purposes of preseason ranking, have likely made assumptions as to who will be manning which weights come November. Some will also likely adjust their rankings as the season begins and different guys remain on the bench, with plans to adjust them again when it's more clear who starters are.

My personal favorite ranking is the one done by Gregg A. Henry at The Wrestling Report. His is the only one that ranks out to 33, the number of wrestlers who qualify for the national tournament at each weight. The others all stop at 20. Intermat & Flo are probably my 2nd & 3rd favorite, for accuracy and lack of any apparent biases. Win Magazine's looks like they hustled a little too hard to get theirs published; they have a number of wrestlers at weights not commonly accepted to be the case. For averages, I gave any unranked wrestler a 33. Here's how 3 of them have Penn State ranked to start out:


We'll dig into the weight classes much, much more as the preseason winds down, but offhand I'd say, on average, that looks about right. Based on results, that is. Penn State's 4 returning Finalists are ranked 3, 2, 1 & 1, which makes sense given the return of 3x AA / 1x Champ Andrew Howe at Matt Brown's weight, Nico and Delgado being in the same class, the graduation of Kyle Dake at 165 and, well, Ed Ruth. I think we have every right to think Morgan McIntosh is going to seriously compete for a championship in an emptied-out 197 class, but only Intermat seems to agree with that. Jimmy Gulibon is one of 12 PA 4x state champs, a real talent, but 133 is beastly this year, even with Steiber moving up. Heavyweight is also really brutal, and we don't know much about what we have at 141 at this point. I'd guess that Gulibon & Lawson can move up a few spots before March, but it's too early for me to guess on them AA-ing.

That leaves the Altons. They've been painfully close to the elite guys in their classes, but 'only' have Dylan's 3rd place 2012 to show for it. They also were pretty banged up last year and each had offseason shoulder surgery. They also both have two years of eligibility remaining. My personal take, the level of hotness of which you may please advise me in the comments, is that IF the Altons are unable to reach up to that ethereal 'potential' (which Dylan has shown he's capable of), then this year's tourney will look a lot like last years. Penn State's elite top-3 talent will provide enough points to hold off the next four contenders, who at this point look like Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma University.

But if the Altons come back healthy, of shoulder and of mind, Penn State will run away with their fourth straight title, and in the process, seriously challenge the big team performance records.

In either case, it's gonna be a damn fun ride.


Ranking Service Links: GAH, Intermat, Win Magazine, FLO (not yet published), AWN (not yet published), D1CW (not yet published)

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