When Cael took over three years ago and redshirted most of his top young talent to allow them to acclimate to the college level of wrestling and the demands of college life the team was without names like Ed Ruth, Quentin Wright, and David Taylor. Many wrestling fans looked ahead to the 2011-2012 season as the year that Penn State would challenge for a national title. The script was simple, get through a "rebuilding year" for a lack of a better term, get the young guys feet wet in 2010-2011 and fire away this season. Things don't always go as planned, sometimes they go a lot better; after three years at the helm, Cael Sanderson's team has won back to back NCAA Wrestling championships.
<cue obligatory George Peppard photo>
I love it when a plan comes together
*US - unseeded/ DP - didn't place
Penn State tore through the championship bracket sending 5 wrestlers to the finals. Like they did last season, Penn State had the team championship wrapped up before the championship finals started on Saturday. Minnesota (117.5 team points) and Iowa (107.5 team points) could not catch Penn State (unless team points were deducted) even if all the Gopher and Hawkeye wrestlers won and all of Penn State's finalists lost. Of course that didn't happen, and the Lions crowned 3 individual champs in Frank Molinaro, David Taylor, and Ed Ruth. The first thing that stands out to you is that only Cameron Wade did not live up to his seed in the tournament and Wade was one win away from All-American status. Penn State set school records in team points (143.5) and finalists (5) and racked up 25.5 bonus points off of 7 pins, 3 tech falls, and 7 majors. 6 of Penn State's wrestlers finished in the top 3 or better.
125 Nico Megaludis- 2nd place
Coming in as a 10 seed, the most remarkable run for Penn State could easily be the amazing tournament Megaludis had. Megatron started off majoring an unranked wrestler then reeled off 3 straight upset victories including 2 against opponents that beat him twice. 2nd-ranked Zach Sanders of Minnesota had beaten Nico twice this season by the same score (6-2). Megaludis wrestled his best match of the championships beating Sanders 7-4 and moved on to take on Frank Perrelli of Cornell, who also beat Nico twice. Megaludis gutted out a tie-breaker win 3-2(tb2) to make it to the finals as the 10th seed. Nico fell short against top-ranked Matt McDonough of Iowa, and I'm sure Megaludisis disappointed, but trust me when I say, the Penn State community is proud of the run Nico made last weekend. Megaludis becomes an All-American as a true freshman.
133 Frank Martellotti- did not place
Martellotti’stournament was short but even he got points for Penn State. After an opening round loss to top-seeded Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State, Frank beat Cal State Bakersfield’s Frank Lomasin the first round of consolations. Martellottiwould lose in the second round to end his tournament but at least he contributed for the Lions.
149 Frank Molinaro- National Champ
The Tank did what he’s been doing all year: just win. Frank had two majors and two more shutouts on his way to the finals. Molinarodid have one close match in the second round against Scott Sakaguchi of Oregon State but Frank was able to prevail 6-5 on a riding time point. In the finals Frank met a familiar face in 7 seed Dylan Ness of Minnesota. Frank had previously beaten Ness three times this season including a technical fall in the Big Ten championship finals. To Ness’s credit, he closed the gap and wrestled Frank close, the match was 3-0 going into the third, but like most of Frank’s opponents he chose the bottom position and played to Molinaro’s strength. Frank rode Ness for most of the third period and built up 1:50 in riding time advantage to end the scoring at 4-1. It still baffles me that most wrestlers chose bottom against Frank. ESPN panned to Ness’s father at the start of the third when Ness chose bottom and he visibly winced in pain. He knew exactly what was coming and he got it.
Frank ends his career as one of the most successful wrestler to wear the blue & white singlet. Frank is Penn State’s 5th 4-time All-American finishing 8th, 5th, 2nd and1st. He finished a perfect season at 33-0 with a career total of 121-29. He leaves Penn State tied for 8th all-time on the career win list.
157 Dylan Alton- 3rd place
Another wrestler to have a spectacular run at nationals was redshirt freshman Dylan Alton. Alton lost only one match the entire tournament, a tough 1-3 sudden victory loss to Derek St John of Iowa, the eventual finalist. Alton beat 4 ranked wrestlers including two that were ranked ahead of him. The best match for Alton came in the consolation finals where Alton beat 3rd ranked Jason Welch of Northwestern 6-2. Alton lost to Welsh earlier in the season and Dylan’s victory gave Penn State the points they needed to put the team race out of reach.
165 David Taylor- National Champ
I said in my preview that Taylor had a bad taste in his mouth from last year’s loss in the finals, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. Taylor ripped through the field like a chainsaw through a stick of butter. Taylor’s bouts ended like this: pin, pin, pin, pin, tech fall. Taylor’s four pins came in a combined 7 minutes and 66 seconds which meant David barely wrestled a whole match by the time he entered the finals. In the finals Taylor used a dizzying display of takedowns to end the match over 11 seed Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh. Already up 12-3 at the end of two, Taylor scored 5 takedowns in less than a minute’s time to end the match on a 22-7 technical fall. Taylor ends an impressive season 32-0 and is 70-1 all-time.
Awards? Yeah, he got ‘em. Taylor was honored as the Gorriaran Award winner for the most falls in the least amount of time, the 2012 NCAA Most Dominant Wrestler for the season, and the 2012 NCAA Wrestling Championships Most Outstanding Wrestler. Taylor was on a mission: mission accomplished.
174 Ed Ruth - National Champ
Another wrestler on a mission was Penn State’s Ed Ruth who finished almost as strong as Taylor. Ruth had two pins, a tech fall, and a major over third-ranked Nick Amuchastegi of Stanford in the finals. Ruth’s closest match was an 11-4 decision over #9 Nick Heflin of Ohio State, missing the major by 1 point. Ed’s season was almost as impressive as Taylor’s; he finished 31-0 andis a two-time All-American with a 69-2 career record. Taylor and Ruth give Penn State two hammers in the middle of the lineup for the next two seasons.
184 Quentin Wright- 2nd place
Wright almost duplicated last year’s amazing run through the championships; almost. Q was dominate on his way to the finals majoring #11 Ben Clymer of Hofstra, pinning #3 Ben Bennett of Central Michigan, and beating #2 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh 3-2. Unfortunately, Wright did not wrestle aggressive in the finals and lost a tough 2-4 sudden victory decision to No. 4 Steve Bosakof Cornell. To say his tournament was a disappointment though, is a bit nearsighted. Quentin finishes second, four places above his 6th seed and he accumulated 3 critical bonus points. Wright will have one more season to repeat his national championship but is already a three-time All-American.
197 Morgan McIntosh - did not place
While Quentin did not have a disappointing tournament, the same cannot be said for Morgan McIntosh. McIntosh started the tournament well, beating Taylor Meeks of Oregon State but then the wheels fell of when he gave up a technical fall to top-seeded Cam Simaz of Cornell. Granted, Simaz is a very good wrestler and he was the national champ but that’s not the outcome Penn State fans have come to expect from McIntosh. Even worse, McIntosh came out flat andended his tournament with a 3-8 loss to Andrew Campolattano of Ohio State, a wrestler Morgan beat twice this season. McIntosh has had a remarkable wrestling career and probably has never been beaten as badly as Simaz beat him. That probably explains why he wrestled so listlessly against Campolattano. Still, Morgan ends a pretty good true freshman season with a record of 18-10.
HWT Cameron Wade - did not place
Like Frank Molinaro, Cameron Wade did what he’sdone all year: look like an All-American but come up just short. Wade won two in a row but lost to third-ranked Clayton Jack of Oregon State in the quarterfinals. That put Wade in the "round of 12" meaning all Cam needed was one more win and he was guaranteed All-American status. It was the same scenario that Wade faced last season and just like last season he faced an unseeded wrestler in the form of Nick Gwiazdowski of Binghamton. Just like last year, Wade lost to Gwiazdowski and fell one win shy of becoming an All-American. Cam had a good career at Penn State andleaves with a 94-39 career record. He wasn’t great but he was always steady and dependable. I feel bad for Wade, he was so close to becoming an All-American but just came up short; twice.
It was a great effort for Penn State as a team and they did what the needed to do. It wasn’t a secret that the Nittany Lions had some heavy guns in the middle of their lineup but some of the younger guys wrestled better than expected. Nico Megaludis and Dylan Alton had spectacular freshman seasons and give Penn State two young All-Americans. This was supposed to be Penn State’s year and it was, and now the Lions can sit back and celebrate back to back National Championships.
It’s never too early to look ahead, so what will next year’s lineup look like? Well, the Lions return 8 of their 10 starters including 5 All-Americans. They lose a heavy hitter in Frank Molinaro, but Dylan Alton’s twin brother Andrew will slip into Molinaro’s spot after a redshirt year. Andrew isn’t quite as good as Frank yet, but there isn’t much drop off either. Unlike Frank though, Andrew is a pinner, so point production probably won’tdrop much. The other hole will be the loss of Cameron Wade, but with the news of three-time heavyweight state champ Jimmy Lawson giving up football and transferring to the good guys,the Heavyweight situation looks fine. Lawson will join the Nittany Lions in the fall on full scholarship, will wrestle right away, and will have 3 seasons of eligibility left. So yeah, things are good for Penn State wrestling fans. The Lions will be favorites to three-peat as national champs.