UNIVERSITY PARK — Finally, the Alton twins are distinguishable to the casual observer.
Andrew, the Penn State wrestling team’s talented 149-pounder, sported a new look inside the team’s practice facility on Tuesday. Complete with a shaved head and wide smile, Andrew immediately stood out from his brother Dylan wore a heavy shiner on his left eye complete with a gash where dried blood looked as if it might make it hard to blink.
Dylan’s blemishes were earned during a weekend of wrestling in Iowa City and Champaign, Ill. Andrew had no choice to shave his head as Dylan caught him from behind with a pair of clippers. While their looks have changed, their outlooks for the remainder of the season have too.
Both sound happy and confident and both are determined to put a rough first portion of the season full of distractions and questions — courtesy of a one month suspension for violating team rules — about their commitments and conditioning behind them.
“I’m real happy with Dylan. He’s a man on a mission right now,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “(Andrew)’s super talented and it’s just a matter of getting things straightened out for him. It’s going to happen a little bit each week.”
Dylan, ranked No. 5 at 157 pounds, did something he couldn’t do in two bouts against top-ranked 157-pounder Derek St. John last season. He took the Iowa standout down in front of over 15,000 wild Hawkeyes fans on Friday night and put himself in position to win the match.
He was going for a second takedown late in the third period when St. John — known for his strong counter-offense — slipped around Alton late to post a 4-3 win.
“The mission is to be a national champion,” Dylan said. “I’m working, moving forward, trying my best to complete that mission. Every practice from here on out until Big Tens and nationals is just practice to just go out there and do what you’ve got to do.”
Neither brother is very chatty with reporters, instead relying on their wrestling to do the talking for them. Dylan responded with a beatdown of Illinois’ Matt Nora two days later. Responding to speculation that the one-month suspension he served had negatively affected his conditioning in matches that have gone a full seven minutes, Dylan decked Nora in the third period.
He racked up four third-period takedowns to post a 14-6 major decision that kept Penn State’s shutout rolling.
Dylan said he was working to get bonus points but also wanted to push himself as hard as possible to test his own conditioning. The close loss to St. John also fueled him.
“I’m not going to dwell on it but I’m not going to forget the loss,” Dylan said. “That’s why I’m here in the room right now. I’ll remember that loss and that’s why I’m going to work twice as hard so next time when it comes to that scramble I come out on top.”
Andrew has had a tougher go at it this season. While he also served the one-month suspension, Andrew missed even more time after injuring an ankle during a preseason wrestle-off with senior James English. As a result, Andrew missed the first month of the season and had to wait until Dec. 2 to make his return. Even then, Alton tweaked the ankle during the Nittany Lion Open and said he didn’t feel 100 percent for a long while.
Since then, he’s racked up a team-best 10 falls but has struggled to mount his usually dominant offense late in matches.
In his typical fashion, Andrew got off to a blistering start against No. 11 Jake Sueflohn when Nebraska visited Rec Hall on Jan. 27. He took a 5-3 lead into the third period and nearly hooked Sueflohn to his back last in the second. But the Nittany Lion sophomore quickly ran out of gas and was reversed and fastened to the mat for a pin that quieted the noisy fans in Rec Hall.
“Andrew, he’s going to get better each match,” Sanderson said. “He didn’t have a very good match (against Sueflohn) so he bounced back quickly from a tough loss.”
Andrew, ranked No. 8 at 149 pounds, responded by earning Penn State its first bonus point against the Hawkeyes in a crucial bout. As the Hawkeyes took a 13-0 lead three matches in, Andrew halted their flow with an 18-8 major decision over Brady Grothus.
He followed that with a 6-3 win over Illinois’ Caleb Ervin. Andrew wanted to earn bonus points in that bout but said he still has some work to do. He’s determined to put in the time, however.
“It’s been a little tough,” Andrew said. “I’m not where I want to be right now but I know I’ll be where I want to be at the end. We always peak at the end of the year and that’s what I’m planning on.”