UNIVERSITY PARK — Since this past summer’s Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, David Taylor and Kyle Dake have had limited contact.
They’ll meet again today in the 165-pound bout of the NWCA All Star Classic in Washington D.C., to renew a simmering rivalry expected to carry on as one of the main undercurrents of the 2012 college wrestling season.
Taylor will be joined by Penn State teammates Nico Megaludis, Dylan Alton and Quentin Wright, who will also wrestle inside American University’s Bender Arena.
As for Dake and Taylor, they have a history of wrestling together as youngsters before each went his separate way in college. They’ll be reunited today.
“(Dake) tweeted at me and said he wanted the red singlet, so I said I wanted the blue singlet,” Taylor said before Penn State’s intrasquad dual on Thursday night.
So be it.
To call this match long-awaited would be an understatement. The wrestling news service Flo is billing it as “The Match of the Century” with a full, expandable banner across the top of the website.
Taylor dismissed the tagline in his customary, ho-hum fashion Thursday.
“I’m pretty excited,” Taylor said. “It’s another opportunity to wrestle one of the best guys in the country and that’s all you can ask for as an athlete.”
Of course, you won’t hear Taylor speak dismissively about Dake.
The Cornell senior has spent the last three seasons running roughshod over all entrants in three different weight classes. Last season, Dake earned his third-straight national title, this one coming at 157 pounds. He makes the jump to 165 this season and with an experience edge over Taylor, a redshirt junior, in addition to a heads-up win over Taylor by fall at the trials. Dake got the preseason nod as the top-ranked wrestler at 165. Taylor is No. 2.
“I feel like the vibe is a lot of people think I’m going to lose, which is really weird to me,” Taylor said. “It’s not something I’m used to feeling. I feel like it’s my weight class and it’s time to go out and prove it this weekend.”
Taylor isn’t the only Penn State wrestler with something to prove.
Wright, a senior and last season’s NCAA runner-up at 184 pounds, is hoping to prove to himself he can adjust to the 197-pound weight class quickly.
Wright, ranked second at 197, will face Pittsburgh’s Matt Wilps, who finished fourth in the NCAA Tournament at 197 last season. Wilps is No. 3 at 197 in the preseason poll.
“Anytime you’re wrestling different opponents, people you haven’t seen before, you always have a little of the unknown,” the former Bald Eagle Area standout said. “Moving up a weight class, it’s just, this is a good starting point to go out for the rest of the season and really gauge the things you need to work on, things you need to tweak.”
No. 2 Megaludis, who went on a blistering run through the 125-pound ranks at the NCAA Tournament before losing to Iowa’s Matt McDonough in the final, will face Illinois’ third-ranked Jesse Delgado at 125 pounds. The two did not wrestle last season.
Megaludis said his goal this season is to simply dominate. Often taking the mat first in dual meets, Megaludis said he’ll try to do what he usually does wrestling first — set the tone.
“Hopefully I can set it so that he doesn’t want to wrestle me again,” Megaludis said. “That’s the plan. He’s obviously a very good wrestler but my style is not going to change. Hopefully I’ll let him know that I’m there.”
But Megaludis and Wright could meet up with Delgado and Wilps before the postseason. Penn State wrestles at Illinois on Feb. 3 and at Pittsburgh on Feb. 8.
“It’s good to get a feel for them and especially get somebody who’s real good,” Wright said. “Good guys give you a bar to help you work on things and help you get better.”
As a recurring theme, Alton has set the bar higher for himself this season after finishing third at 157 last year. He’ll face the wrestler he beat in the third-place bout at NCAAs, Northwestern’s Jason Welch.
So far, Welch and Alton have beaten each other once. Welch, a senior who went unbeaten in the Big Ten last season beat Alton 2-1 during the two teams’ dual meet but Alton earned a 6-2 decision in the NCAA tournament. Welch is No. 3 while Alton is ranked No. 2.
“I’ve just been training hard and I’m just going to wrestle like I wrestled at the NCAAs,” Alton, the former Central Mountain standout, said. “I think I’m pretty good right now, well conditioned so I’m just going out there, having fun and take it to him.”