Sunday at Rec Hall will mark the final home meet for eight of Penn State's Senior and graduating wrestlers. A postseason where Penn State is set to strongly contend for its fourth straight Big Ten and National Championships remains, and these young men have been fundamental to the most successful run in Penn State's long wrestling history, so now is a good time to celebrate each of their contributions.
We learned this week that four wrestlers with Junior wrestling eligibility will be graduating this year and moving on to begin their lives outside of the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
Kelly is a 2x NY state placewinner, hailing from Pittsford, NY. He's leaving behind a 22-25 wrestling career at 125 & 133 pounds and is walking away with a degree in Kinesiology where he has been killing it in the classroom. He has maintained a 3.36 cumulative GPA and helped Penn State exceed its team GPA goal of a 3.0 last semester when he earned a 3.52. Cam has also been a member of the ROTC program and hopes to use his Kinesiology degree in an Army career.
Nate found his way to State College from McCook, Nebraska, where he was a 3x state placewinner and won a state championship. He's got a 29-17 career record at weights 125 - 141, and he joins Kelly as a Kinesiology honors student. He is an active volunteer and this year has served as President of Penn State Christian Athletes. His future plans include anything from being a Physical Therapist to a campus Minister.
Kyle is a home-state boy hailing from Oxford, PA, where he placed in the prestigious Flo Nationals and Beast of the East tournaments. He's got a career record of 23-25 at 141 & 149. He is a 2x Big Ten Distinguished Scholar with a double major in Finance and Economics, and last semester posted a 3.61 GPA. He hopes to build a career with a solid company and 'become the best at what I will do.'
Beitz is another wrestler who stayed home to wrestle for the state's flagship program; he hails from Mifflintown's Juniata High and is the oldest of four boys. He's got a 47-22 record at 141 & 149 and is an active volunteer. Beitz is a Dean's List student in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management and hopes to build a career in that industry.
Each of these impressive young men look poised to go forward and represent themselves, their families and Penn State's university and wrestling programs with success and honor, and we wish them well. Additionally, they each have played critical roles in the Penn State wrestling team's recent historic success. When you can stock a wrestling room with a bunch of high-character hard-working studs dedicated to putting in the time and effort necessary to balance an academic and wrestling life like these guys have, your team stands a much better chance of success. They have earned every bit of each of the following banners and hopefully their teammates can bring home one more for their collection next month:
James English has had a long career at Penn State. Granted a 6th year of eligibility this year by the NCAA for medical hardship experienced through multiple seasons of multiple injuries, James has made the absolute most of his healthy competition. He sports a 54-21 career record, all at 149 pounds. He hails from the 717's Central York High, where he was a 2x state placewinner and bronze medalist. Penn State fans have long asserted that James could be an All-American if we could just keep him healthy enough to try and his on-mat results, when healthy, have borne that out. He was a 2011 University Nationals Freestyle champion and in the 2013 Scuffle he placed 3rd, earning wins over All-Americans Drake Houdashelt and Dylan Ness (by MFF). He held multiple-X national champions Jordan Oliver and Kyle Dake to regular decisions. He's a really, really good wrestler.
Switch over to the academic arena and he'll kick your butt there, too. English already has a degree in Chemical Engineering and last semester earned a 4.0 working on a second degree in Energy, Business and Finance. Ask any of your D1 wrestling friends how much time they had for school work. Now ask your Chem E friends how much time they had for anything else. Right. James English is a helluva man, and this program will miss him. Come visit, soon, James!
Vollrath is a Penn State wrestling legacy, who joined his brother Rob at Penn State from Council Rock South in Richboro, PA, where he was a state placewinner and placed 7th at High School Nationals. Their father Bill wrestled for Penn State from 1974-1978 and fell one win short of earning All-American. James is perhaps the most accomplished of the non-regular-starters (if there is such a thing) during this epic Penn State run. Counting his competition during his true freshman year when he was redshirting (the formula I've used for all the career records above, using the PSWC's data), Vollrath is an astounding 102-34 in his five years of wrestling. It is widely assumed that James could very well earn All-American honors in the starting lineup at any other D1 programs. But he followed his family to Penn State and the fans have been rewarded.
While he went 25-4 last year, including a narrow sudden victory loss in the Southern Scuffle finals after a win over eventual national 3rd placer Alex Dieringer, 2011 was probably James' most decorated--and helpful--year. In the 2010 Southern Scuffle, wrestling unattached behind eventual champion David Taylor, Vollrath lost a 4-1 decision in the first round. But in the consolation brackets, he went an incredible 9-0, finished 3rd and helped Penn State to their first of four straight Southern Scuffle championships in a shared title with Cornell. Two months later, Cael Sanderson made a change at 165 pounds, benching starter Jake Kemerer (who eventually transferred) and bumped Vollrath up a weight to compete at Big Tens.
Having had no time to earn many victories at the new weight, he was one of three unseeded wrestlers and got stuck facing 1-seed Andrew Howe in the first round. After Howe majored him, he went to the consis where he did work. He gutted out a tie-breaker win over 7-seed Ryan Leblanc to earn vital Placement Points and barely lost a sudden victory decision to 6-seed Dan Yates, to land a spot in the 7th-Place match. There, in one of the later matches of the second day, James pinned 8-seed Kevin Bialka, earning 2 Bonus Points and a Placement Point in what would end up being the closest Big Ten Tournament in history: a 1-pt margin of victory over incumbent champion Iowa in Penn State's first ever Big Ten Championship.
James Vollrath's contributions have been absolutely vital to Penn State's recent success and we wish him the best of luck with his business goals in the fitness industry using his Kinesiology degree. Good luck, James, and thanks for everything!
Ed Ruth and David Taylor have presided over and led Penn State wrestling to the most success it has ever enjoyed in its long history as a Top-5 national program. At 126-3 and 125-3, among wrestlers who wrestled more than one year, only three Penn Staters in history have fewer losses (Jack Light '35-'37, Larry Fornicola '52-'55, and Andy Matter '70-'72) and Ruth & Taylor sit 2nd and 3rd on the Penn State winning percentage leaderboard (we'll have plenty of time these next few years to celebrate current #1, Zain Retherford, but today is not his day :)
Barring injury, they are surefire locks to become Penn State's seventh and eighth 4x All-Americans, joining former teammates Frank Molinaro and Quentin Wright. Both are heavily favored to again repeat as Big Ten Champions and in so doing to become the Big Ten's twelfth and thirteenth 4x Champions. Available records aren't complete enough for me to verify or refute it, but Ruth and Taylor may be the first to accomplish the feat without ever having lost a match to a Big Ten opponent!
They came to Penn State the same year, have wrestled within two weight classes of each other every year and when both have entered the same wrestling tournament, Penn State has never lost. The team has gone 10-0 in tourneys the past four years and, with these two leading them for the last time, stands a competitive chance to improve that to 12-0 by the time March is over.
Although recruited by different coaches, under the leadership of Cael Sanderson, one of the most efficient scorers in college history, the two have employed an offensive style of wrestling that has excited home fans and opponent fans alike. They tower over the Penn State Career Bonus Wins record book and, using Travis Johnson's (of the CDT) math the two have combined for 216 Bonus Point victories, which is an incredible 84% of their combined victories. These guys are very, very dominant.
I want to give each of them their own section and since Ed Ruth is staring at possibly becoming Penn State's first-ever 3x National Champion, I'll allow him the honor of going last.
David Taylor moved from Wyoming to Ohio before his first year of high school and he won four Ohio state championships after he did. He also won every major high school tournament available at some point or another. The top recruit in the nation coming out in 2009, Penn Staters are lucky that Cael Sanderson sought us out when he did, for Taylor knew he wanted to wrestle for Cael. Redshirting his first year, he shared the wrestling room with Cael's brother, 5th year SR Cyler, who had transferred in and former Penn Stater Bubba Jenkins, who transferred out, and they were the only two he lost to, going 22-3. In addition to settling into college wrestling and the coaching of Sanderson and his staff, he was also settling into his new weight of 157; his last HS title was at 135.
His first year in competition, he came out on fire. As he walked into the 2010 Southern Scuffle, one of the Flowrestling announcers quipped, alluding to Taylor's HS nickname the 'magic man,' 'here comes David Taylor, riding into the arena on his unicorn'. And that meme stuck with us here in blogistan as we melded it to refer to him as the magic unicorn. He won that tournament (his first of three Scuffle titles), roared out to a 35-0 record, a Big Ten Championship (his first of, hopefully, four!) and a 3-seed at his first national tournament. Penn State had finished 9th the season before, and hopes were high for a higher finish this year. Taylor certainly helped. He went 4-0 before a disappointing pinfall loss to Jenkins in the finals, earned his first All-American honors, and he sent 19.5 points to the team to help Penn State win its first National Championship since 1953!
In 2012, Taylor grew into the 165-pound weight class and again ran the table heading into Nationals. He went undefeated, earned his second Big Ten Championship and entered the national tourney as the number one seed. He put on an impressive display, pinned his way to the finals, finished with a sublime technical fall to finish 35-0 and earned his first Hodge Trophy as the nation's best wrestler, narrowly beating out Ed Ruth. His 31.5 team points were a half point shy of the maximum one could possibly earn, and Penn State crushed the field for their second straight title.
In 2013, David Taylor had a new challenge, as 3x-Champ Kyle Dake announced he would be moving up in weight again, to the 165-pound weight class. They met in the preseason all-star match, a tight 2-1 Dake victory where they both seemed to be feeling each other out. Dake won a second, controversial meeting, 3-2 in the Southern Scuffle final and all eyes across the wrestling community were focused on the rematch at the national tournament. Neither disappointed, as both reached the finals easily, Taylor all by fall again. In the end, Dake's top-ride was too strong and Taylor fell again, 5-4. His 24 team points were vital, though, as Penn State's third straight title was only by a 4-point margin over 2nd-place Oklahoma State.
Heading into this year's postseason, Taylor is again undefeated and only last week 'suffered' his first regular decision victory--all the previous ones had been bonus point wins. There doesn't appear to be a wrestler in the country who can hang with him and hopes are high for a fourth Big Ten Championship, a fourth All-American finish and a 2nd National Championship. Additionally, Taylor remains eligible to join a very elite group of wrestlers, the 4x-Finalists. In addition to 4x-Champs Pat Smith, Cael & Dake, there are nine other wrestlers who have made the finals four years and Taylor could be the 13th member of that group! Although he can't catch Sanderson's 111 team points scored at Nationals, he's already got 74 and 20 of those are Bonus Points. He only needs 8 more this year to tie Cael's 28!
For all that he's been and has accomplished on the mat, David Taylor has been every bit as valuable to Penn State off it. He's already got his undergrad degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management and last semester he posted a 3.67 GPA en route to a grad degree in Education Administration. In every interview, including after tough losses, he's represented himself with class, good humor and thoughtfulness, and he appears to have embraced his role as a model for younger wrestlers and fans. I was really glad to read this week that next year he plans to become a Resident Athlete in the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club's Regional Olympic Training Center. Penn Staters everywhere will benefit as David Taylor sticks around.
Thanks for everything, David, and best of luck in all your future goals!
Ed Ruth came to Penn State from a huge Harrisburg family. He's the 9th child of his parents' five boys and five girls. He spent a year at New Jersey's wrestling-famous Blair Academy, where he was a National Prep Champion. He redshirted his first year at Penn State and his only losses then were to teammate Quentin Wright and one in sudden victory to All-American Chris Honeycutt of Edinboro.
In the 2011 season, Ed's redshirt freshman year, he was in the starting lineup at 174 pounds. He started out quietly, even dropping a 9-4 decision to #8 Mike Letts of Maryland, but at the Southern Scuffle later that month, hoo-boy! It's hard to tell what seed he was operating from, but he started out Fall in 2:11, Major 11-3, Fall in 1:07, until he met #1-ranked Mack Lewnes, a returning National Finalist who had only been taken down once the entire previous year. Ed took him down about four times en route to a dominating 11-6 decision. In the finals, he faced #2-ranked Chris Henrich, who he dismantled 7-2. The country then knew that Ed Ruth was here to stay.
Ed went undefeated from there, earning the first of (hopefully, four!) Big Ten titles and entered the national tourney as the 2-seed behind undefeated Jon Reader of Iowa State. He started out with a fall and a decision, but twisted his knee wrestling against Stanford's stud 7-seed Nick Amuchastegui in the quarterfinals and had to injury default out to the consis. It would be a looongg time until he lost again. He toughed out the pain from there and fought back through the consis, going 4-0 including repeat wins over Lewnes and Henrich and a pin over 6th-ranked Ben Bennett. He earned his first All-American honors, finished 3rd and assisted Penn State's first title in 48 years with 21.5 team points.
In the 2012 season, 174 was all Ruth's. He bonused everybody at the Scuffle, except for new teammate Matt Brown. And he ran roughshod through the Big Ten, bonusing all of its top-ranked wrestlers: Munster, Lofthouse, Heflin, Zeerip, Blanton, Heflin again, and finished with a 13-2 major of 6-ranked Logan Storley for his second Big Ten title. His body of work earned him the 1-seed at Nationals, and Penn Staters were hopeful that 3-seed Amuchastegui could make it to the finals for a rematch. He pinned his first two opponents, Heflin held him to a decision in their third tussle of the year, he tech-falled Storley in the semis and oh, man did he get his revenge on Amuch! Crushed him 13-2 for his first National Championship. If not for Taylor, he clearly would have won the Hodge that year, and his 27.5 team points helped pad the margin of victory in Penn State's second straight team title.
2013 saw new challenges. The arrival of Brown, who walked into Lorenzo after two years in Angola in stone-chiseled shape, forced some changes to the Penn State lineup and Ruth & Quentin Wright were more than happy to oblige, with Quentin clearing out 184 to head to 197 and with Ruth easing his weight cut by bumping to 184. He started out the year ranked number two, in deference to returning champ Steve Bosak (who had squeaked out a win over Q in the 2012 184-pound final) but Ruth quickly put an end to that noise, when he took Bosak down three times en route to a convincing 7-3 win in the Scuffle final.
The rest of the year was ho-hum, with only Rutgers' Dan Rinaldi & Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus holding him to regular decisions. He earned his third Big Ten Championship and practically waltzed through Nationals with two pins, a Major, and another decision over Bosak to reach the finals. With Penn State in a tight race with Oklahoma State for the team title, fans were treated to a sight when Ruth's lead widened enough that he looked to the corner for coaching advice on how to proceed. Sanderson knew Penn State might need the extra point, so he instructed Ruth to release and take down 3x All-American Robert Hamlin. He did as instructed, finished with a 12-4 Major Decision in his second individual national title and earned 26 points towards Penn State's third straight National Championship.
Ruth looked poised to run through his third straight season undefeated. He had bonused every wrestler he had faced, including three pins and a Major to reach the Southern Scuffle finals against a guy he had pinned earlier in the year: Cornell's Gabe Dean. Ruth looked a little weary and out of it and Dean wrestled a helluva match and ended Ed's 84-match win streak with a 7-4 decision. As is his fashion, Ed was gracious in defeat, exhibiting his trademark smile as he shook the opposing coach's hands and accepted the end of his undefeated run. The two huge upsides to the loss are that there was less at stake in the Scuffle final than there would have been in the Big Ten or Nationals final and that there now exists a possibility for a rematch. Ed Ruth is pretty good in rematches.
Ed's intangibles are infectious. He is as chill as they come, is quick with a smile and has clearly committed to showing the wrestling world that he is here to have fun. He seemed genuinely embarrassed by his actions that earned him a 30-day suspension early this season, and he appears gracious in every interview he's done. He's a communications major who has considered careers in wrestling coaching and TV in the past and is committed to join the NLWC's as a resident athlete next year as he trains for the 2016 Olympics. That's a good thing for the Penn State program--to have Ed Ruth sticking around.
Best of luck in March, Ed, and in all your future endeavors! Thanks for all the memories; we've been very lucky to have watched you perform.
Penn State Pat has informed us that all the Nittany Lion wrestlers will be sticking around after the dual meet on Sunday for an autograph session. I encourage you lucky ticket-holders to not only go down to offer thanks to these young men for all they've done for the program, but to come around here and share any stories you may have as a result.
To all you wrestlers who are leaving us, thank you. You will be greatly missed.