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We're Wrestling: Penn State Preview

It's time to wrestle. Penn State takes on Lehigh to kick off the season November 16th at Rec Hall. Let's take a look at this year's squad.

Wrestling at Rec Hall
Wrestling at Rec Hall
Onward State

Penn State's won the last two Big Ten titles and National Championships. Most of the squad returns with its sights set on a third straight for both; the wrestling room also gets a few newcomers. Earlier, we previewed the Big Ten and National landscape; Frank and James gave us a run-down of the Penn State Intrasquad Dual meet. And JtotheP covered the NWCA All-Star meet, which featured four Penn Staters. In this post, let's see how the whole squad shakes out in preparation for Penn State's opening dual meet versus Lehigh, at Rec Hall, on November 16th.

125 LBS

Last Year: True freshman Nico Megaludis (Murraysville, PA) took the starting spot out of camp and never let go. He went 30 - 8 on the season, finishing 5th at the Big Ten Championships before putting together an awesome National tournament that saw him avenge earlier losses to Minnesota's Zach Sanders in the national quarterfinal and Cornell's Frank Perrelli in the national semi-final. Nico lost in the final to Iowa's Matt McDonough to finish 2nd in the nation.

This Year: Nico starts the season ranked #2 behind McDonough. Nico beat #3 Jesse Delgado of Illinois in the NWCA All-Star Classic.

Expectations: Wrestling is exhausting, but Nico never gets tired. The guy wrestles for 7 minutes and looks like he could go another 20 - it's pretty ridiculous. McDonough is awfully tough, but you'd be crazy to dismiss Nico. He expects, I'm sure, to be a National Champ this season. Anything less than a top 3 finish nationally would be a disappointment.

133 LBS

Last Year: JR Derek Reber (Lewisburg, PA) transferred from Bucknell and held this spot in the lineup early in the season, going 10 - 8 overall. He gave way to true sophomore Frank Martellotti (Shady Side Academy) after Frank's grades got back in order. Martellotti had a disappointing run, losing a series of close bouts at the end on some strange wrestling. Martellotti finished 7th at the Big Ten Championships, which got him an automatic qualifier for Nationals; there, he went 1 - 2, losing to top-seeded Jordan Oliver and 6th-seeded Devin Carter of VaTech.

This Year: Martellotti and Reber will continue the fight for this spot in the lineup, but both may be surpassed by RSFR Jordan Conaway (Gettyburg, PA). Conaway finished his high school career with a state championship at 112 lbs, and a victory over Evan Silver at the Dapper Dan Classic. He redshirted last season and has worked hard to bulk up to 133; he won the Intrasquad Dual over Martellotti (5 - 1). Also in the mix, though likely to redshirt this year, is true freshman Jimmy Gulibon (Derry, PA), a Top-5 national recruit and one of the rare 4-time PA State Champions. The word coming out of the room is that Gulibon is the real deal, another totally focused individual who, like Megaludis, the coaches have to monitor to prevent over-training. A redshirt would only help, but if he continues to perform the way he has pre-season and Martellotti/Reber/Conaway all falter, he may force the coaches' hands.

Expectations: 133 is loaded in the Big Ten, featuring 3 of the top 4 ranked wrestlers, so whomever takes this spot will have a tough road. But the bar was set last year by Martellotti, so the expectation is to improve upon that by winning another match or two at Nationals. All of the possible starters begin outside the pre-season Top 20, but one should emerge to finish the season in that mix.

141 LBS

Last Year: Bryan Pearsall (Lititz, PA) bumped up from 133lbs, going 15 - 13 on the season, finishing 7th at Big Tens and narrowly missing out on qualifying for Nationals.

This Year: Pearsall is a senior. He came to Penn State unheralded and went just 3 - 22 in his first season. He's literally made himself into a Division 1 wrestler through blood, sweat and lots of hard work. How do you not cheer for this guy? Behind Pearsall is RSFR Luke Frey (Montoursville, PA) and FR Zach Beitz (Juniata, PA). Frey finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 2nd at states in high school, while Beitz won the 2A State Championship last season - so both wrestlers are talented, but this looks to be Pearsall's spot, with Pearsall defeating Beitz at the Intrasquad (4 - 2).

Expectations: Pearsall has gotten better every year, and is good for at least one upset of a higher ranked opponent. He's tall, and is difficult to takedown. He also has a pretty nice ride with some turning combinations. Pearsall should qualify for nationals this year, and could do some damage when he gets there. A podium spot is not out of the question, though Pearsall starts the pre-season outside the Top 20.

149 LBS

Last Year: Frank the Tank Molinaro went undefeated, didn't allow a point to be scored against him at the Big Ten Championships, and won the National Championship. High crotch, lift, slam. Figure four the leg. Cross face and grind.

This Year: Andrew Alton (SO, Mill Hall PA) returns from a redshirt. As a true frosh at 141 two seasons ago, Andrew went 31 - 10 at probably the most difficult weight class that season. He was a pinning machine, notching 19 falls, including in 10 of his first 12 matches. He missed the Intrasquad dual with an ankle injury, but this will be his spot in the lineup. Behind him are Seth Beitz (SO, Juniata PA) and Jim English (SR, York PA); English would likely start at most of the other Big Ten schools, and would challenge for All-American--but he loves Penn State.

Expectations: Alton starts the season ranked #7 nationally, behind only Ness (Minnesota) and Tessari (Ohio State) in the Big Ten. There aren't many more dangerous on their feet than Andrew, and if he's improved his mat wrestling, there's no reason to think he won't contend for a national title.

157 LBS

Last Year: RSFR Dylan Alton (Mill Hall, PA) began his Penn State career going 32 - 6 on the season, finishing 3rd at the Big Ten Championships and 3rd Nationally. So, you know, not a bad start.

This Year: Alton begins the season ranked #2 nationally, behind only Iowa's Derek St. John, who defeated Alton twice last season in very close matches (3-1 SV at Big Tens, and 3-1 OT at Nationals). #3 Jason Welch of Northwestern gives the Big Ten a sweep of the top-3 at this weight. Alton defeated Welch to finish 3rd nationally last season, and beat him again this week at the NWCA All-Star meet (3 -2). The previously mentioned English provides depth at this weight, along with another great Penn Stater, Jimmy Vollrath (SR, Council Rock PA). Vollrath placed 3rd at last year's Southern Scuffle, and finished 7th at 165 lbs two years ago in the Big Tens, helping the squad to its first Big Ten title. Vollrath is another wrestler who could make a lineup at several Big Ten schools, but chooses to stick in the Penn State room.

Expectations: Like his twin brother Andrew, Dylan is dangerous on his feet, and if he's improved his mat wrestling, there's no reason to think he won't contend for a national title this year.

165 LBS

Last Year: SO David Taylor (Paris, OH) went 37 - 0 with 35 bonus point victories, pinning his way through the national tournament before tech falling his finals opponent. It was an historically destructive season, and finished with the Hodge Trophy (wrestling's Heisman).

This Year: JR David Taylor returns, and will be joined by another all-time great at this weight, Cornell's Kyle Dake. Expect these two to bang heads at the Southern Scuffle, and again at Nationals. Taylor dropped their first meeting this past Saturday at the NWCA All-Star meet, 2-1 on tie-breaker. Behind Taylor is the aforementioned Vollrath, and former starter Nick Fischer (SR, Unionville PA). RSFR Rex Lutz (Easton (Pen Argyl), PA) has come on in the wrestling room as well.

Expectations: Lots of victories, lots of bonus point victories to be precise. Will Taylor take home another title if Dake stays at this weight? I'm not betting against him.

174 LBS

Last Year: SO Ed Ruth (Harrisburg, PA) went 32 - 0 with 27 bonus point victories - two of the five who Ruth didn't bonus were his teammate Matt Brown. Ruth was your Hodge Trophy runner-up.

This Year: SO Matt Brown (West Valley City, UT) takes this spot in the lineup as Ruth bumps up to 184. Brown wrestled unattached last season, finishing 2nd at the Southern Scuffle (to Ruth), 2nd at the National Collegiate Open (to graduated 2x All-American Steve Fittery), and beat former NCAA Champ JP O'Connor to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Brown also filled in at 197 twice last season, beating two Top-20 opponents while giving up 20+ lbs. Brown starts the season ranked #5 nationally. Behind Brown, Lutz and JR Andrew Church (Erie, PA) provide depth.

Expectations: You can't ask a guy to have a Hodge Runner-Up season like Ruth did, and Brown is not the same type of wrestler. Brown is a beastly grinder who pulls on your head until you think it might come off. But with Ruth gone to 184, this weight is fairly wide open nationally; Brown is my favorite for a Big Ten title, and should contend for a national championship.

184 LBS

Last Year: JR Quentin Wright (Wingate, PA) went 31 - 4, finishing 3rd at Big Tens and losing a heartbreaker in the National Final, in overtime, to finish 2nd nationally.

This Year: JR Ed Ruth takes this spot in the lineup, and he starts the year ranked #1 in the nation. Last year's champion, Steve Bosak of Cornell (State College, PA), returns as #2, along with last year's #3 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh (somewhere in Vermont). There's a reason that Ruth starts the season at #1 at this new weight, ahead of two accomplished wrestlers - he's that good. Behind Ruth, true freshman Wes Phipps (Grove City, PA) will redshirt after winning the 2A PA State Championship last season.

Expectations: I don't see anyone beating Ed Ruth all year long, unless it's because he gets bored or injured.

197 LBS

Last Year: True freshman Morgan McIntosh (Santa Ana, CA) weighed around 193 pounds. A redshirt probably would have helped young 'Smackintosh', but the fact was he was the best option for Penn State at this weight. Morgan showed his talent, losing in heartbreaking fashion to Sonny Yawn of Minnesota (twice) and Matt Powless of Indiana (twice) during the season, while also battling a gimpy knee. He finished 19 - 10 on the season, 5th at Big Tens and went 1 - 2 at Nationals.

This Year: SR Quentin Wright bumps up to 197. He's a 3-time All-American, 1-time NCAA Champ, and was runner-up last year at 184 lbs. Quentin is explosive, with a freight-train double leg that everyone wishes he'd use more frequently. He also throws opponents with the greatest of ease off his underhook. When he's wrestling loose and looking to score, he's awfully tough to beat, but we'll have to see how he handles the extra weight this year. He enters the season ranked #2 nationally, though he just dropped his first match at 197 lbs in the NWCA All-Star meet to #3 Matt Wilps of Pitt, on a late fall. Behind Quentin, McIntosh will get to take that redshirt, while SR Justin Ortega (Oxford, PA); SO Nick Ruggear (Oxford, PA) and FR Scott Syrek (Chester Springs, PA) provide depth.

Expectations: Quentin will drop some matches this year. He may even fall out of the top 5 nationally. But he's going to qualify for Nationals. And at the national tournament, wherever he gets seeded, he's sure to make a deep run. Who's dumb enough to bet against him in March? Not me. He'll finish a 4-time All-American, and with a little luck, could be a 2-time NCAA Champ.

285 LBS

Last Year: Graduated SR Cameron Wade went 27 - 7, and came up 1 win shy of All-American for the second year in a row. The big teddy bear was a monster on top, but never could put together his dream national tournament.

This Year: Who knows? SO Jon Gingrich (Wingate, PA) is the early front-runner. Gingrich has made big strides since arriving in the Penn State wrestling room. He won an exhibition match at last year's dual versus Utah Valley, and then took home 1st place at the National Collegiate Open. His challenger is SO Jimmy Lawson (Monmouth, NJ), who spent the past two seasons playing defensive tackle at Monmouth State, after a prep career as a 3-time NJ State Champion. He was a top recruit nationally at heavyweight before choosing football. He's rumored to have all the physical gifts, but it will also take him some time to shake the rust off.

Expectations: We may have an on-going, season long wrestle-off - at least through the New Year's Southern Scuffle. The Big Ten sports 8 ranked heavyweights in the pre-season - so whoever wins this spot will have a weekly challenge. Neither Gingrich or Lawson are ranked pre-season - but no one really knows what they can do either. It's hard to form an educated expectation from a relative black hole. A national qualifier should be a given - but can either challenge for the podium come March? Based on rumors from the wrestling room, I don't see why not.

Overall Expectations

In 2011's championship run, PSU qualified 8 wrestlers for the national tournament; in 2012, they qualified 9. This season, Penn State should, for the first time in a long time, qualify all 10 weights - and get more than 1 team point from all 10 weights. They should have 7 All-Americans at the end of the year - anything short of 7 would be a big disappointment, as all 7 should be challenging for a spot high on the podium, if not for a national title. An 8th, and possibly even a 9th All-American, is within the realm of possibility (though not likely). Penn State does has questions to answer - Ruth and Wright both bump up a weight class, Taylor's likely to have Dake in his bracket, we have little to no idea about heavyweight at this point, and Andrew Alton will be hard pressed to match Molinaro's point total by himself at Nationals. But this squad has the potential to better last year's championship run - which saw five finalists, six All-Americans (all Top-3), and tallied the highest team point total in more than half a decade. In other words, the bar is high, but this could be the best team yet.

Penn State Wrestling Schedule

Date Opponent / Event Location Time
Thu., Nov. 1 Intrasquad EX University Park, Pa. 7:00 p.m. ET
Sat., Nov. 3 NWCA All-Star Classic Washington, D.C. 7:10 p.m. ET
Fri., Nov. 16 vs. Lehigh University Park, Pa. 7:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Nov. 18 at West Virginia Morgantown, WV 2:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Dec. 2 Nittany Lion Open University Park, Pa. All Day
Sun., Dec. 9 vs. Indiana * University Park, Pa. 2:00 p.m. ET
Sat., Dec. 15 vs. Lock Haven University Park, Pa. 2:00 p.m. ET
Tue., Jan. 1 Southern Scuffle Chattanooga, TN All Day
Wed., Jan. 2 Southern Scuffle Chattanooga, TN All Day
Sun., Jan. 13 vs. Michigan State * University Park, Pa. 2:00 p.m. ET
Fri., Jan. 18 vs. Wisconsin * University Park, Pa. 7:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Jan. 20 at Purdue * West Lafayette, IN 1:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Jan. 27 vs. Nebraska * University Park, Pa. 2:00 p.m. ET
Fri., Feb. 1 at Iowa * Iowa City, Iowa 9:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Feb. 3 at Illinois * Champaign, Ill. 2:00 p.m. ET
Fri., Feb. 8 at Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 7:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Feb. 10 at Ohio State * Columbus, OH 2:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Feb. 17 vs. Rider University Park, Pa. 2:00 p.m. ET
Sun., Feb. 24 at Rutgers New Brunswick, NJ 1:00 p.m. ET
Sat., Mar. 9 Big Ten Championships Champaign, IL All Day
Sun., Mar. 10 Big Ten Championships Champaign, IL All Day
Thu., Mar. 21 NCAA Championships Des Moines, IA All Day
Fri., Mar. 22 NCAA Championships Des Moines, IA All Day
Sat., Mar. 23 NCAA Championships Des Moines, IA All Day

I understand that there's a cycle to Big Ten scheduling. But how in the world can you allow Penn State and Minnesota to not wrestle each other? Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota are your top-3 teams nationally. Sure seems stupid to not have a Penn State vs. Minnesota dual. That's only slightly more stupid than having Penn State and Minnesota wrestle before Thanksgiving last year. Come on, Big Ten.

As far as home duals go, you have to love starting the season with Lehigh. I also give credit to Cael and Cody Sanderson for scheduling in-state opponents Lock Haven (who's on tough times) and Pitt, area 'rivals' West Virginia and Rutgers, and also newcomer Rider - a northeast program that could use some visibility. PSU is each school's biggest meet, and helping out the local guys is doing a solid. But the Big Ten home slate is a real downer. Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin are probably three of the bottom four in the B1G. Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State are each Top-7 squads nationally - but they'll all be road contests. Despite that, Rec Hall is already sold out for the year. Standing Room Only tickets can still be picked up, on a limited basis, before each home dual - usually the Tuesday before the dual at 10am.

The Big Ten Network is stepping up its coverage of wrestling this season, so we've got that going for us. I'm hoping for a few more illegal fist to the back calls from the student announcers this year. And if you haven't made yourself familiar with Penn State All-Access, for $10/month, you should give it a look. If for nothing else, it includes the radio (and occasional video) broadcasts of our own Jeff 'Ironhead' Byers, who is without peer in my completely biased opinion. Ironhead nearly had a coronary announcing Nico's match versus Delgado at the NWCA Classic. Sounded like his head might explode as Nico was awarded the winning takedown with 6 seconds remaining.

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