UNIVERSITY PARK — Their first season wrestling in the same lineup was a tough one for twin brothers Andrew and Dylan Alton.
A midseason suspension forced them out of the lineup and as a result, the twins were unable to generate much momentum heading into postseason tournaments, where Andrew wound up fourth at 149 pounds and Dylan sixth at 157 in the Big Ten Championships. Both flamed out in the NCAA tournament, finishing a combined 6-6 and missing out on All-America laurels.
Although they didn’t know it at the time, each Alton tore up his shoulder, too. While they didn’t make excuses, the Altons were never able to wrestle like they were used to when Andrew went 30-10 as a true freshman in 2010-11 and Dylan went 30-6 and finished third in the national tournament as a redshirt freshman the next season.
MRIs after the NCAA Tournament in March revealed torn labrums in both twins.
Now juniors, the Altons are looking to return to form for Penn State. They’ll have to wait to do so, however, as those shoulders are still healing up. Dylan had surgery in May while Andrew underwent repairs in June.
“Anytime that you have a major shoulder injury like that that requires surgery it takes time,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They have both been doing a great job and I think they are a month ahead of schedule.”
Sanderson said he expects the twins will be ready to return in December or January.
Until then, the Altons will continue to progress from summer surgeries. Andrew, who will return at 149 pounds for Penn State, said he couldn’t pinpoint when the injury took place, only that soreness and fatigue in his right shoulder began to set in gradually as the season wore on.
“I could definitely feel it but you don’t know, you can still wrestle, can still practice,” Andrew Alton said. “It gets really tired. The more you do the more you can’t use it.”
Dylan said he began feeling pain in his left shoulder at the beginning of the season, shortly after he wrestled Northwestern’s Jason Welch in the NWCA All-Star Classic in early November. Like Andrew, he wasn’t sure what was ailing him and never considered shutting himself down.
“That was never in consideration. Just wrestled through it,” Dylan Alton said. “There are always people that have to wrestle through injuries, unfortunately. I just wanted to stick it out and I believed last year that I could do anything even though I had an injury and it was really bothering me. I believed I could win (the NCAA title) last year.”
Vollrath, English ready
to step up again
While the Altons continue rehab and work toward a return, two familiar faces will likely take on workloads at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively.
Senior James English was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will step in at 149 pounds. English, who missed the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons with injuries, wrestled at 149 in place of Andrew Alton last season while Alton was suspended along with his brother for a violation of team rules.
English is 44-15 in his career with a 14-4 record last season. He went 3-2 in duals and scored 10 team points for Penn State. Senior James Vollrath — sometimes called the third Alton for his physical resemblance to the twins — will likely handle starting duties at 157 in place of Dylan Alton.
Vollrath is 63-17 in his career and went 23-5 last season. He was 3-0 in duals wrestling in place of Dylan and notched nine dual points for Penn State.
“We have some other guys in those weight classes that are tough, 149, (Luke) Frey is in there. He’s wrestling well and has had a lot of success,” Sanderson said. “But (English and Vollrath) are both seniors and had some great wins throughout their careers so they’ll do a great job in there. They’re planning on being the starters also.”
Battles on tap at a number of weights
While Penn State returns bonafide starters at a number of weights, there will be healthy competition for other spots that are still up for grabs.
The Nittany Lions are looking for starters to emerge at 133, 141 and 285 pounds specifically.
Jordan Conaway returns after a memorable run last season but has redshirt freshman Jimmy Gulibon to contend with. Conaway was a win away from becoming an All-American while Gulibon tore through open tournaments and put up a 21-7 record with six technical falls and five major decisions.
“There’s definitely talk of moving (Gulibon) up (to 141) in the future. We’re not ready to move him up now,” Sanderson said. “It would be great to get both he and Conaway and Nico all in the lineup this year but looking down the road that’s probably not the best move for our team.”
Bryan Pearsall departed and left a vacancy at 141, where one of a handful of wrestlers could step in, Sanderson said. Among them, Zack Beitz, Nate Morgan and true freshman Zain Retherford could all earn mat time.
“We’re very deep at that weight class this year as you can see,” Sanderson said. “You go through the lineup there. We’re three or four guys deep. We’ll let them wrestle and we’ll figure out who the right guy is for that position. We don’t look at (141) as a weight class that we don’t feel we’re going to be competitive at. We feel like we’re going to be very strong at 141.”
After swapping starts last season, juniors Jon Gingrich and Jimmy Lawson are back to contend for the heavyweight spot again. Sanderson said junior Nick Ruggear will also push for mat time.
No redshirt for Megaludis
Nico Megaludis has been on the podium at the NCAA Tournament for two straight seasons. He’d like to take a step up this year as his previous two trips have seen him end up No. 2 at 125 pounds.
Of course Megaludis, now in his junior year, wouldn’t be able to do that if he redshirted, which was an option but was quickly ruled out by him and the coaching staff this summer.
“Obviously we’ve talked about that and Nico’s talked about that,” Sanderson said. “But that’s not the plan right now. We want to put the best team out there most of the time and there’s exceptions based on the individuals and the team that we have, but this is a very competitive year this year. There are some very good teams and I think we want Nico in our lineup.”
Megaludis said he wanted to evaluate himself this summer and would’ve redshirted had he not met his goals for improvement.
“If I would’ve felt like I didn’t make the improvements over the summer then maybe that could’ve came in play,” Megaludis said. “But I felt by this time I’ve made those improvements and I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.