Penn State wrestling: Nittany Lions confident entering NCAA tournament

tjohnson@centredaily.comMarch 21, 2013 

— Quentin Wright didn’t spend the past two weeks preaching.

He wasn’t bouncing around the practice room with advice for his nine teammates who will try to help Penn State secure it’s third consecutive national title when the NCAA Wrestling Championships begin Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

And as Wright put it, he shouldn’t have to.

Afterall, the majority of Penn State’s 10-man lineup has been involved in one form or another in the Nittany Lions last two championship runs. The trio of Wright, David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) alone have combined to wrestle 39 NCAA Tournament bouts and have won 33 of those.

“It’s an exciting prospect to have 10 guys going and it also adds a little confidence knowing that we have a lot of experience going into this tournament,” Associate head coach Cody Sanderson said. “The first championship we won there were a handful of guys that hadn’t been in that tournament before.”

And it’ll be no different this time, except for the fact that two seasons later Taylor, Ruth and Wright, all national champions and multi-time All-Americans, are established stars who have combined to go 81-1 this season.

Throw in 125-pounder Nico Megaludis who made a run to the finals last season and returning All-American Dylan Alton and the Nittany Lions have the look of a dangerous group of seasoned, big-stage wrestlers. Andrew Alton will try to earn All-America laurels after coming up short in 2011. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Jordan Conaway (133) senior Bryan Pearsall (141) and sophomores Matt Brown (174) and Jimmy Lawson (285) will make their tournament debuts.

Pearsall will enter a weight class he just missed out on last season after he failed to earn an at-large bid.

“I definitely got more sleep last week then I did the year before,” Pearsall said. “It was a lot of weight off of my shoulders that I didn’t have to worry about the at-large (bid).”

Brown made sure he wouldn’t have to worry about that.

He went on a tear in the Big Ten tournament, winning the 174-pound title handily over Iowa’s Mike Evans. After his performance in Champaign, Ill., Brown earned the No. 2 seed for nationals.

“It lets me know that I’m going in the right direction,” Brown said. “It’s an important step for me and just another step in my progression.”

Wright is also a No. 2 seed, this year at 197 after losing in the 184-pound finals last season. Ruth is the top seed at 184 pounds while Taylor is also a No. 2 seed and seems primed for one of the most anticipated rematches in college wrestling history.

The NCAA changed the championship format to feature the 165-pound title bout, which could pit No. 1 Kyle Dake of Cornell against Taylor, the reigning Hodge Trophy winner.

Dake will try to win his fourth title at his fourth different weight class. Taylor is determined to stop him and win his second title at 165.

“I think the way people phrase it, they try to make comments about me ‘hanging with him,’” Taylor said of the anticipation surrounding the possible rematch. I’m the returning national champ. I won the Hodge Trophy last year. It is my weight class and maybe he won a match and that’s good for him but what really matters is what happens over the weekend.”

Regardless, Andrew Alton is relieved to be back on his sports’ biggest stage. He redshirted last season after finishing 2-2 as a freshman.

But last year Alton spent his final day rooting for his twin brother Dylan, who put in an inspired effort to finish third at 157 pounds. Andrew and Dylan are seeded 11th and 8th at 149 and 157, respectively.

“It was tough but it probably would’ve been tougher it I didn’t have a twin brother,” Andrew Alton said. “At least I had someone there to watch and be really excited for.”Their coach, Cael Sanderson has been monitoring all of their progress closely over the last two weeks. He and his staff had the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex decorated thoroughly in time for their early practices in the days leading up to their departure.

“I think we’ll have our best tournament this weekend, yes,” Sanderson said. “That’s just a year-long plan and making sure the guys are clear on their purposes and what we want and make sure that they know how they’re going to do it.”

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