Penn State closed out the 2009 - 2010 wrestling season with three all americans and a strong 10th place finish at Nationals. The team seemed to get stronger as the year went on aided by an unusually weak Big Ten conference. Looking at it deeper though, it's clear it was the consistent performers of years past that helped boost Penn State while those that helped destroy the previous coaching staff still seem struck in neutral.
There's no question Cael has brought deserved optimism back to a team that many fans had began to lose hope for. But there is still work to be done, a tenth place finish is an improvement but it's still not good enough for a team that used to be one of the better programs in the country.
Penn State managed just three All Americans this year the bad news is that two of them were seniors.
Two time All American, NCAA runner up 2010, NCAA 3rd 2008
Dan never seemed to get the hype that some of his teammates got, but he was a solid wrestler. I think Penn State loses a lot with Dan walking out the door, he was not only a prototypical Penn Stater but exactly the type of guy Cael wants, good athlete, good student and a good person. His junior season was an extreme disappointment but he bounced back this year with his best finish at the NCAAs. He wasn't much of a vocal leader on the team but definitely a guy who would lead by example.
1 time All American( for Penn State), Big Ten champion 2010
Cyler's Penn State career was brief, but he managed to become Penn State's only Big Ten champion of 2010. His NCAA tournament was extremely disappointing as he finished 6th in a fairly weak weight class. There's not much to be said for his time at Penn State since it was so brief, but you can't ignore that his presence in the wrestling room certainly seemed to help Dan Vallimont get to the next level.
Erwin's career is gone to be a tale of what could have been. He came out of high school in Ohio one of the top rated recruits in the country. But the results never seemed to come at the collegiate level. His senior season was by far his best and included wins over some quality opponents. But at the NCAA tournament he again fell short of being an All American.
The good news for Penn State is that while they lose three solid guys they still have a strong core of returns to build on for next year.
Brad has been a solid starter now for what seems like a decade, he'll be entering his sixth season at Penn State next year after Olympic and standard redshirt years. He's made it to the round of 12 the past two years falling one win shy of being an All American. Next year will be his final shot to reach that level. Motivation should be an issue as this year Brad watched several guys he's beaten easily in the past reach All American honors especially Nikko Triggas of Ohio State. His NCAA tournament while disappointing in finish was still pretty solid. He beat the 8th and 9th seeds before falling to the 1 and 2 seeds who finished 3rd and 4th. Compare that with Matt McDonough the champion who didn't wrestle a single seeded wrestler before the finals. I expect Brad to step up in his final season and reach all american honors. Most thought he would fare much better in college then he has thus far, and it's clear he has fallen behind the top level of wrestlers at 125. But he has shown in the past he's capable of beating just about anyone on any given day, so there's always a chance for a magical finish in Philadelphia next year.
Adam Lynch came in to the season a relative unknown battling expected starter Colby Pisani for time in the starting lineup. When Pisani left the team Lynch went on an absolute tear beating some of the top wrestlers in the country. But at the Big Tens he came back to earth a bit with a fairly poor tournament and failed to qualify for the NCAAs. All season he said he had planned to graduate this year, but it was announced last week that he will return for his final year of eligibility. Due I'm sure in part to some convincing of the coaching staff. The question will now become who is the real Adam Lynch is he the wrestler who couldn't stay off his back at the beginning of the year or the world beater who beat three straight ranked wrestlers. My guess is it's somewhere in between, I think he's a solid starter who could qualify for the NCAA but likely won't reach All American honors. He became a bit of a fan favorite this year, with his underdog status, and never say die attitude but he'll have to take it to the next level next year if he wants to stay in good faith with the fans. Especially because with his return it's all but assured that Andrew Alton will be redshirting next year.
2x All American
Frank surprised a lot of people when he reached All American honors last year at 141 this year he moved up to 149 and took a giant step forward. In one of the stronger weight classes he managed to reach the semifinals before losing to eventual runner up Lance Palmer of Ohio State. All of the guys who finished above Frank this year were seniors, so he should move up considerably next year. However there are a few guys who may jump in ahead of him next year. The biggest name will probably be Darrion Caldwell the 2009 NCAA champ at this weight who redshirted this season. It looks fairly likely Kyle Dake Cornell's true freshman national champ at 141 will make the move up to 149, also Kellen Russell from Michigan is expected to make the move to 149 after a redshirt year. The most interesting potential opponent is former Penn Stater Bubba Jenkins, he has yet to announce where he plans to wrestle next leading some to speculate that his wrestling days may be over. But I have a feeling quite a few Penn State fans are salivating over a potential Jenkins Molinaro final at the NCAAs next year. That's two NCAA champions and a runner up who could be at this weight next season. That being said I think Frank should still be in the discussion for a National title. He's made tremendous progress each of his first two seasons as a starter, if he continues to make that progress I think he'll be able to compete with any of these guys.
Wright will be coming off his redshirt year at least 1 weight class higher than the one where he became Penn State's 3rd ever true freshman All American and the first since Jamar Billman in 1998. Many fans are excited to see him back on the mat, with good reason. His true freshman campaign was incredible, and he'll now have a season of having Cael as one of his regular workout partners. I think which ever weight he goes he'll be a National Title contender next year.
The New Faces
Cael has said in most cases he will redshirt almost all true freshman. Recently he said there may be exceptions to the rule. Sam looks to be one of those exceptions, he was an absolute beast in PA before injuring his knee in December. The good news is he's expected to be back on the mat in May or June at the latest, plenty of time to be ready for the season to start in November. I personally agree with Cael's stance on redshirting all freshman, but there's no question Penn State needs serious help at 133 and Sherlock would be a huge upgrade over Pearsall. Stinson another true freshman could also get the start here but Sam appears to be the better of the two.
The Magic Man is a monster people are eager to see this kid finally wrestling in a Penn State singlet. His high school accolades are impressive and he appeared ready for college last year. There's been a ton of hype around this kid, it will be interesting to see how he lives up to it. I don't think it's unreasonable to think this kid could be a high all american next season.
Jake was finally granted his release from his Oklahoma letter of intent so he'll have four more years to wrestle for Penn State. He was a strong high school wrestler in PA, and is built like an ox, he'll be a big change from Vallimont at 165. He's put together more like Howe from Wisconsin, compared to the smaller faster Vallimont. He beat Dan at the wrestle off earlier in the year and I think he could have a really good red shirt freshman season.
Ruth committed to Penn State when Troy Sunderland was at the helm, and then chose to stay on board and wrestle for Cael. He spent the first three years of high school at Susquehanna Township which is not exactly a wrestling powerhouse to say the least. He then transfered to Blair Academy one of the top wrestling schools in the country for his senior season and had a monster year. He gave Wright all he could handle at states two years in a row. Those two should make for quite the duo for Penn State for the next few years.
One of the stranger stories in college athletics, Platt was a top recruit of Sunderland a couple of years ago but was dismissed quietly from the program in a late Friday afternoon press release. He never wrestled a match for Penn State and then transfered to a community college in Iowa and it looked like he was poised to join the Hawkeyes. He basically vanished from the wrestling world this year until January when it was announced that he had re-enrolled and Penn State and was working out in the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. He wrestled in several open tournaments late in the year at heavyweight and had great success against limited competition. He could be a huge boost to the upper weights but he needs to get his grades in order to become eligible.
Obviously it's just now April and a lot can change between now and next fall, but there's already a pretty big buzz about next year's wrestling team. For good reason the talent that is moving into the starting line up is tremendous, and it seems like the program is starting to head in the right direction. As mentioned before Cael likes to redshirt most if not all true freshman and I see that continuing next year. When you take into account that Penn State has only had three true freshman all americans in it's storied history it certainly lends some credence that it's a pretty solid plan. A lot of people are projecting that one of the Altons will wrestle 141 next year, with Lynch returning I think that's pretty doubtful. Even before he announced he would return I thought it seemed unlikely that either Alton would be able to make 141 especially Dylan who wrestled 152 in high school this year. A lot of people are eager to see these recruits get in the lineup much like any sport so there will be plenty of pressure on guys like Lynch and Molinaro to succeed. The one problem I do see forming for Penn State is the boatload of talent they have stacked between 149 and 165, someone is going to be unhappy and stuck on the bench. I also think the talk that Ruth will go 174 and Wright 184 is pretty crazy I can't see Ruth going back down to 174 after wrestling the whole season at 184. If he was weighing in at 177 season all season and wrestling at 184 I would say maybe but I don't think that's the case. Here's how I predict the lineup will shake out for next fall:
125: Brad Pataky
133: Sam Sherlock
141: Adam Lynch
149: Frank Molinaro
157: David Taylor
165: Jake Kemmerer
174: Justin Ortega
184: Ed Ruth
197: Quentin Wright
HWT: Cameron Wade Fall / Jared Platt Spring
Obviously I think Penn State would like better production at 174 than what they got this year from Ortega but most of the talent seems to fall above and below that weight. True freshman Dirk Cowburn is a possibility at that weight but I think he'll need a redshirt year before he's really ready for this level. I actually really like the idea of Ruth, Wright and Platt at the final three weights. I think Platt could be a monster at heavyweight even if he weighs only 215 or so. I list Wade as the starter in the fall in the event that Platt isn't eligible till the spring.
Obviously this is a pretty strong lineup on paper the question is where does it stack up in the Big Ten and the country. Iowa will likely fall back to the field a little bit next year after dominating the past three seasons. They're definitely in a rebuilding mode but they'll still be extremely strong. They'll return Matt McDonough this year's 125 lb champ and Montell Marion the runner up at 141. Based on history alone I'd say they're probably still going to enter the season as the favorite to win the Big Ten. Michigan should bounce back next year after a rebuilding year this season. Ohio State sees almost all of their top wrestlers graduate this year and they'll likely take a step back. I think Penn State has a legitimate shot to win the Big Ten next season. Anything less than a top three finish should be considered a huge disappointed for this group.
As far as the rest of the country goes, I think Cornell is probably going to be the top team in the country at the start of next year, they return a ton of talent and have another quality recruiting class coming in. Oklahoma State is another team that seems poised to make a run back to the top. I expect Iowa State will drop off some this year after they like Iowa lose a ton of seniors. I think with the lineup Penn State has they are a top 5 team at Nationals next year with an outside shot at a title if a few of the redshirts perform better than expected.
Before this season I said they would win a national title in Philadelphia next season. I've backed off that some to a more conservative optimism. There's plenty of reasons to be exciting especially in the guys listed above. But there's also plenty of reason for concern. There's still a hole at 174 and the team is desperate for someone to step up and be a vocal leader. Something this years team seemed to be missing. They have a few good leaders in Pataky and Wright but they're more the silent lead by example type. Which is fine but every great team needs someone to speak up and light a fire when it's needed.
News will likely be quiet on the wrestling front for awhile. A few of our guys will be wrestling in freestyle tournaments throughout the summer. The recruiting class should be officially announced sometime this month, and the schedule will likely come out over the summer. Other than that hopefully it will be a quiet summer for the wrestling team as any other news would likely be bad news.