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Penn State Crowns Five All-American Wrestlers at the National Championships

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Penn State sent seven wrestlers to nationals, and brought home five All-Americans and one National Champion as the team finished outside the Top-5 for the first time since 2010.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Cael Sanderson era is producing All-American wrestlers at a rapid clip. In Cael's first year in 2010, Penn State had three AA's and added new wrestler Cyler Sanderson to the list. In 2011, five made the podium as David Taylor, Ed Ruth and Andrew Long made their AA debut. 2012's changes included six AA's, the debut of Nico Megaludis & Dylan Alton, and Frank Molinaro joining the list of 4x AA's. In 2013, Matt Brown debuted and Quentin Wright joined the 4x AA club as five wrestlers made the podium. Last year introduced newbies Zain Retherford, Morgan McIntosh and All-American James English; Ed Ruth & David Taylor joined the 4x club; and we watched seven Penn Staters receive AA medals. This year, nobody joined the 4x AA club (Matt Brown was blocked by Ed Ruth in his first year of eligibility), but Penn State crowned five All-Americans as Jimmy Gulibon, Jimmy Lawson and Jordan Conaway all made it for the first time.

All-American Morgan McIntosh (197)

Yesterday we looked at the stellar career of Matt Brown, who finishes at Penn State as a 3x AA, 2x Finalist and a National Champion. Junior Morgan McIntosh will have one more year to reach the first and last of those accomplishments and by the way he wrestled this year--and if he is blessed by good health--he will have every opportunity to become Penn State's 24th National Champion.

This year Morgan elevated his mat wrestling and became an imposing top-rider. With only brief blips against last year's champion J'Den Cox and this year's runner-up Kyle Snyder in January, he also vastly improved on bottom. His neutral game remained as strong as before and he continued his dominance against 3x AA Scott Schiller and 2x AA Nathan Burak, beating the former three times and the latter twice. He also avenged those earlier losses, dominating Kyle Snyder in the finals for his first Big Ten Championship and then this weekend getting an amazing last-second takedown against Cox in the national consolation semifinals.

If close losses were the number one recurrent them for this year's squad, it seemed fitting that the only loss Morgan suffered at nationals was one as well. In the quarterfinals, Morgan faced the squirrely 10-seed Conner Hartmann, who wrestles for Duke and, as such, Morgan never got to face him during the season. He had three really, really good shots that he was unable to finish, including one at the end of p3 that seemed like he and Hartmann circled six times, and the Dukie scrambled long enough for time to expire and to advance with a 3-2 win over the 2-seed McIntosh.

It was a heartbreaking loss because it looked for the world like McIntosh was peaking at just the right time to earn his first championship. Worse, a loss in the quarterfinals drops you to the consolation R12--the Blood Round, where one more loss can end your season and keep you off the podium. Morgan didn't bat an eye, though, and he went 4-0 on Friday evening and Saturday morning, beating the 13, 6, 5 and 1-seeds to finish third. It was the first time a Penn State quarterfinal loser had fought back for 3rd Place since Dylan Alton did it in 2012.

21.5% 197 #2 McIntosh Adv Bonus Plc 14.5
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W over #US Zach Nye (Virginia) (Dec 3-0) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
2 W over #15 Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska) (MD 14-5) 1.0 1.0 0.0 2.0
Qtrs L #10 Conner Hartmann (Duke) (Dec 3-2) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
R12 W over #13 Shane Woods (Wyoming) (Dec 8-3) 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
Consi Qtrs W over #6 Nathan Burak (Iowa) (Dec 6-3) 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
Consi Semis W over #1 J`Den Cox (Missouri) (Dec 3-1) 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
3rd W over #5 Scott Schiller (Minnesota) (Dec 12-7) 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0

All-American Jimmy Gulibon (133)

To all observers, Jimmy Gulibon also really stepped up his wrestling this year. Cael has been saying since summer that he turned a mental corner, relaxed his approach and began to have fun with the sport's challenges. Gulibon sounded like he was reciting the fun mantra in every one of his interviews and it really did manifest itself on the mat. Additionally, we heard he improved his nutrition discipline and took consistent control over his weight. This also appeared visible on the mat, as Gulibon looked much bigger for his weight class than he had last year.

While the trademark toughness that was such a part of his stellar high school career returned, he only rarely suffered from bouts of inconsistency resulting from an apparent lack of focus. In almost every close match, he had just as much of a chance to finish with the W as did his opponent. The close matches got the better of him in the Big Ten Tourney, as he stumbled to an 0-3, 6th-place finish after dropping a controversial 7-5 sudden victory loss to Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor.

That result dropped what was shaping up to be a top-4 seed to a 7-seed at nationals, but he avenged the loss to Taylor in the quarterfinals, frustrating the Badger 9 to 4 and earning his first All-American honors. He lost two close scrambles to 3-seed Cory Clark and couldn't quite make the finals. He then ran into Edinboro's consolation buzzsaw A.J. Schopp, before beating longtime rival Mason Beckman of Lehigh for 5th place. All in all, a very fine season for Gulibon and one that portends lots of promise for the Sophomore in his next two years of D1 eligibility.

Note: Taylor was so frustrated that he bolted off the mat without shaking hands and began sprinting for the tunnel. Wiscy coach Barry Davis was up to the task, though, and hawked him down, grabbed his neck aggressively and sent Taylor back to the mat for the requisite handshake before the ref raised Gulibon's hand. I love Barry Davis.

16.3% 133 #7 Gulibon Adv Bonus Plc 11.0
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W over #US Scott Delvecchio (Rutgers) (MD 11-3) 1.0 1.0 0.0 2.0
2 W over #US Jade Rauser (Utah Valley University) (Dec 8-4) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
Qtrs W over #2 Bradley Taylor (Wisconsin) (Dec 9-4) 1.0 0.0 6.0 7.0
Semis L #3 Cory Clark (Iowa) over James Gulibon (Penn State) (Dec 7-5) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Consi Semis L #9 A.J. Schopp (Edinboro) over James Gulibon (Penn State) (Fall 3:39) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
5th W over #10 Mason Beckman (Lehigh) (Dec 9-5) 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0

All-American Jimmy Lawson (HWT)

One thing Jimmy Lawson was this year that he may not have been in the prior two years since he arrived at Penn State from playing football at DII Monmouth was consistent. At least as far as his results went. Actually, his wrestling was similar to his results (funny how that works, huh?), in that against less-talented opponents he opened up and wrestled aggressively--in neutral, top and bottom. In those matches he unveiled an absolutely gorgeous freight-train double-leg takedown that had all his fans wishing, hoping, praying he would attempt it against the top guys. Unfortunately, even mental game guru Cael Sanderson was unable to inspire him to do so.

Except for maybe once. In the Big Ten consolation semifinals against Michigan's giant 2-seed Adam Coon, Lawson exploded right off the whistle and scored a beautiful takedown. Unfortunately, he injured his shoulder in the shot, lost 9-5 and medically forfeit his 5th-place match. Worse, Offensively Experimental Jimmy went back into his shell.

At nationals, though, he didn't lose any matches he shouldn't have, went 4-3 with wins over 9-seed Michael Kroells and 10-seed Ty Walz (both of whom finished on the podium behind him) and dropped Major Decisions to 2x Champ Nick Gwiazdowski and 3rd-place finisher and 4x AA Mike McMullan, along with a 6-0 decision to Bobby Telford to finish 6th place.

Cael quipped at the Saturday night social for the Penn State Wrestling Club that Lawson placed 6th 'without taking one shot,' which belied the struggle they've shared over the issue for the past three years. When a struggle results in an All-American finish in your last attempt, though, things are going pretty well. I shook hands with Lawson's dad that night, and I'll tell you that no number of coaching digs would diminish that proud papa's happiness.

13.3% HWT #8 Lawson Adv Bonus Plc 9.0
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W over #US Jacob Aiken-Phillips (Cornell) (Dec 9-3) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
2 W over #9 Michael Kroells (Minnesota) (Dec 5-2) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
Qtrss L #1 Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State) by Major Decision 14-1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
R12 W Dec #11 Devin Mellon (MIZZ) 4-1 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
Consi Qtrs W over #10 Ty Walz (Virginia Tech) (SV-1 3-1) 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
Consi Semis L #2 Michael McMullan (Northwestern) (MD 10-1) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
6th L #3 Bobby Telford (Iowa) (Dec 6-0) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

All-American Jordan Conaway (125)

Most wrestling fans suspected that Conaway would be an AA at 125, if only based on his R12 performance at 133 in 2013, and Jordan did not disappoint. Excepting, perhaps, himself. He had a really nice season with some big wins and only two really big losses and quite a few almost-there very close losses. He could never get over the hump against Iowa's 4th-place finisher Thomas Gilman, losing by one point three times--twice in overtime. But he had a nice win over then-#3 Joey Dance in the December dual, and he finished 29-9, in 3rd place at Big Tens and in 8th place at nationals in this, his first season at what many consider his most natural weight.

This past weekend, he went 3-0 after another squeaker with Gilman to earn a spot on the podium, before dropping a Major Decision in a mismatch with Cornell's 2-seed Nahshon Garrett. Then in perhaps his most disappointing match of the season, he dropped a close 5-4 decision to 7-seed Eddie Klimara in a match he was winning until the last few seconds.

What happens next year for Jordan in his last year of eligibility depends on a lot of moving parts. 3x AA Nico Megaludis and 1x AA Zain Retherford are likely returning from redshirt. Nico has not yet qualified for an Olympic Redshirt and it's not clear at this point whether he would use it even if he did, and there is lots of mat-room talk about the possibility that Retherford might bump up a weight to 149. But whatever happens with the lineup, it's clear the coaches really like Jordan competing in it, and he is now an All-American.

8.1% 125 #11 Conaway Adv Bonus Plc 5.5
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W #US Joaquin Marquez (The Citadel) (Dec 12-7) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
2 L #6 Thomas Gilman (Iowa) over Jordan Conaway (Penn State) (SV-1 3-1) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
R24 W over #US Scott Parker (Lehigh) (Dec 4-3) 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.5
R16 W over (US) Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) (Dec 7-3) 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.5
R12 W over #US David Terao (American) (Dec 8-5) 0.5 0.0 3.0 3.5
Consi Qtrs L #2 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell) over Jordan Conaway (Penn State) (MD 10-1) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
8th L #7 Eddie Klimara (Oklahoma State) over Jordan Conaway (Penn State) (Dec 5-4) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Matt McCutcheon (184)

You guys remember Ed Ruth, right? How hard would it be for you to follow Penn State's only 3x National Champion in your redshirt freshman season? Pretty tough, right? McCutcheon did an awesome job of it, if you ask me. I think a good bar to measure his 2015 performance against is not Ed Ruth, obviously, but Jimmy Gulibon's 2014 RSFR season. Gulibon then struggled at times mentally, often wrestled inconsistently and finished off the podium in the Round of 16. The next year he bounced back and earned AA.

McCutcheon's RSFR season this year was slightly better. Mouse finished 26-14, whereas Gulibon finished 18-15. Mouse also performed better at nationals and was thiiiiis close to earning AA honors last weekend. After appearing to have hit a wall in mid-February, dropping four out of five dual meet bouts at one point, he turned things around at Big Tens with a 6-4 upset of 1-seed Sam Brooks. He finished that tourney in 4th place after injuring his kneecap and forfeiting the 3rd place bout. Then last weekend, he came out on fire in St. Louis, mauling unseeded Nick Fiegener in a 20-5 technical fall in round one. In the next round, he upset 3-seed Blake Stauffer, frustrating Arizona State's coach and former head of the U.S. National team Zeke Jones so much that he darted out of the arena without speaking to his own wrestler.

Things looked to be set up beautifully for McCutcheon to earn AA honors on Friday morning, as Ohio State's unseeded Kenny Courts surprised some folks by reaching the quarterfinals as Matt's opponent. In the January dual, McCutcheon had looked pretty good and perhaps poised to steal the winning takedown when Courts surprised and took it instead. And after Friday's first period, things looked really good for McCutcheon after he had a nice takedown and a strong ride during which Courts rarely had his forehead off the mat and he'd forced the first stall warning on Courts. When Courts deferred to start the second, Matt chose down and quickly escaped to lead 3-0 with riding time over a minute. Things looked great!

But then Kenny Courts did something surprising: he shot and scored a takedown. Mouse escaped again to lead 4-2 heading into the third. Courts chose down, escaped to a 4-3 deficit and then scored the winning takedown. Mouse escaped again but could not secure the necessary takedown and it ended with Courts advancing to his first All-American honors with a 5-4 decision.

We heard later that McCutcheon had reinjured his knee during that first takedown, but Cael of course didn't say anything about that. Instead, in this hallway interview I was absolutely thrilled to be part of, he just said that McCutcheon stopped wrestling:

Cael added that 'that was just an experience opportunity for him,' and most would guess its one that many redshirt Freshmen could use before taking the next step up in their careers. Later that night in the Blood Round, the matchup again appeared favorable and McCutcheon drew Nebraska's 16-seed TJ Dudley, whom Matt had absolutely destroyed in the Southern Scuffle before forcing him to withdraw from injury. But it was not to be and Dudley advanced to AA with a 5-2 decision. Next year's upperweight lineup looks pretty set with Bo Nickal stepping in for Matt Brown at 174 and McCutcheon and McIntosh coming back at 184 and 197 respectively, so McCutcheon should have another great opportunity to continue to progress.

Note: this is the closest I've ever gotten to Cael Sanderson and his jaw is the most imposing structure I've ever seen on a human face. Earlier he was chewing gum and it looked like it could crush rocks. Above it, his crystal blue eyes have a piercing look that, combined with his relaxed demeanor and slow pace of speaking, warn even the most intrepid reporter to watch what you say. The other PSU beat writers were very nice to me, especially BWI's Tim Owen, and standing among them in the hallway interviewing Cael made me feel more like a journalist than I ever imagined I would. I'll have more words on the meta aspects of my press credential experience later, but this interview and the ensuing handshake was the the highest highlight of a supremely thrilling weekend. As we all split up to head our separate ways, Cael joked, faux-apologetically for the 6th-place finish, 'stay with us now, ok?'

5.2% 184 #14 McCutcheon Adv Bonus Plc 3.5
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W over #US Nick Fiegener (Cal Poly) (TF 20-5 7:00) 1.0 1.5 0.0 2.5
2 W over #3 Blake Stauffer (Arizona State) (SV-1 3-1) 1.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
Qtrs L #US Kenny Courts (Ohio State) (SV-1 7-5) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
R12 L #16 Timothy Dudley (Nebraska) o(Dec 5-2) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Zack Beitz (149)

Beitz' opportunities in next year's lineup may not be as rosy if the Zain bump to 149 rumors come to fruition. I'm a little nervous for one of these guys if Nico doesn't earn or take the Olympic Redshirt, because Penn State would have five wrestlers for four spots at 125/133/141/149: Nico, Conaway, Gulibon, Retherford and Beitz. The first four could be debated as to what weights they could realistically go at, but Beitz at 141 seems loooong gone and with super frosh Jason Nolf set to debut at 157 in the lineup, somebody is gonna get pinched out.

If 2015 was a season of close losses, nobody exemplified that trait more than Zack Beitz, and his 2015 nationals tourney was its pinnacle. After posting a Major Decision in round one, Zack had back-to-back losses to 5-seed Chris Villalonga and 6-seed Alex Pantaleo and was knocked out of the tournament. Both were one-point losses, one was in overtime.

It stinks most, I think, because Zack wrestles exactly like this coaching staff wants its wrestlers to: he attacks, all the time. All of the takedown points scored by his nationals opponents were earned on counters to Zack's offense. The Villalonga overtime one was particularly frustrating, as it appeared to be only Villalonga's 5th-year physical maturity that allowed him to shrug under Zack's shot and get the win. The Pantaleo bout was also frustrating in that Zack had a successful double-leg takedown that was not awarded when Pantaleo landed out of bounds, Beitz' feet still inside the circle, as time expired.

Here is Zack's record against this year's final podium denizens:

  • Champ Drake Houdashelt of Missouri: 3-2 loss at the Scuffle
  • 4th place Brandon Sorensen of Iowa: 6-4 loss in the dual
  • 5th place BJ Clagon of Rider: 6-3 win in the dual
  • 6th-place Chris Villalonga of Cornell: 6-4 OT loss at nationals

3.0% 149 #12 Beitz Adv Bonus Plc 2.0
pigtail bye 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1 W over #US Shawn Greevy (Chattanooga) (MD 10-1) 1.0 1.0 0.0 2.0
2 L #5 Christopher Villalonga (Cornell) over Zack Beitz (Penn State) (SV-1 6-4) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
R24 L #6 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) over Zack Beitz (Penn State) (Dec 5-4) 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

The guys at bloodround.com are fond of saying 'what have you done beyond close losses?' and legitimately so. Measuring success by a series of close losses is a hollow technique. It's not without some merit, but they're right: if Beitz has a spot left for him in next year's lineup, it will be high time for him to turn more of those close losses into W's. The kid seems to respond very well to the staff's style of coaching, so I really hope he gets another shot.

Coming tomorrow: team race analysis including the top six teams' performances against their seed and upsets, injuries and other factors that contributed to the final team ladder.