Nearly eight hours passed and a field of almost 500 wrestlers was whittled down to 20 finalists.
Half of them were Penn State wrestlers who dominated the 10 mats inside Rec Hall at Sunday’s Nittany Lion Open.
Penn State claimed five individual championships as Andrew Alton (149 pounds), David Taylor (156), Matt Brown (174), Ed Ruth (184) and Quentin Wright (197) went undefeated. In total, Penn State had 18 of its 30 entrants place in their weight classes.
“Five champions, that’s something to be happy about,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “You want 10, but I think our guys are wrestling well.”
Well enough to post an overall record of 97-34 and garner 23 pins. And the Nittany Lions had a chance to win a title at every weight class except 141 pounds. Nico Megaludis (125), Jimmy Gulibon (133), Dylan Alton (157) and Jimmy Lawson (285) all lost in their final matches. Wright beat teammate Morgan McIntosh at 197.
It was the first extended action for much of Penn State’s starting lineup this season. With the exception of a few, most of the Nittany Lions’ starters had only wrestled two bouts before Sunday.
“We went through here injury free, which is a first time I think,” Sanderson said. “When you have a tournament like this for a first time for some of our starters, they’re more at risk. I’m glad — healthy and happy. That’s always good.”
Better news to Sanderson was the performance by Andrew Alton, who had been held out of action for the first month of the season with an ankle injury. With the exception of a slight tweak in his final bout against Virginia’s Augustus Sako, Alton, ranked sixth in the country at 149, looked to be in prime shape all day.
He kickstarted his season by pinning Lehigh’s Albert Woody in 5:34, then spent a total of 87 seconds on the mat for his next two matches, pinning North Carolina’s Christian Barber in 44 seconds and Boston’s Colin Saunders in 43.
“Coaches and myself, I didn’t now if I was going to wrestle all the matches today,” Alton said. “It was determined on how my ankle felt. It felt good all day and I think I’m ready for the season to roll.”
Alton continued to prove his health with a 13-5 major decision over Drexel’s Matt Cimato in the quarterfinals before he pinned North Carolina’s Nick Heilmann in 1:36 in the semis.
He fell behind 3-0 early to Sako in the finals and twisted his ankle during a Sako takedown. But Alton walked it off and caught Sako in a headlock for a pin just 2:12 into the bout.
“I knew after I got taken down, I knew he was coming with underhooks,” Alton said. “I shot in with a double, came up and he sort of tried to underhook me and I went right to headlock.”
While Alton cruised at 149, Penn State dominated the weight class overall. Among the 17 Nittany Lions quarterfinalists, four — Alton, James English, Seth Beitz and Luke Frey — went deep at 149 with English winning third place.
“It feels awesome,” Alton said. “I get to practice with these guys all day. They’re tough. All of us just make each other better and we get tougher every day.”
After Alton’s title win, the first for Penn State on the afternoon, Taylor, Brown, Ruth and Wright followed with impressive performances. The foursome combined for seven pins, four technical falls and five major decisions.
Taylor and Brown beat Mark Lewandowski of Buffalo and Greg Zannetti of Rutgers in their final bouts, respectively. Taylor pinned Lewandowski in 5:42 before Brown beat Zannetti 7-4.
Up next, Ruth and Wright showed their prowess at new weights. Ruth, who won a national title at 174 last season, beat Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock 11-4 to win the 184-pound title. He had to recover from a slow start in which Sheptock took him down twice, however.
“I don’t like giving up two takedowns,” Ruth said. “It was an honest takedown, but I don’t like to give those up. People lose big matches because of things like that. It’s great to have some type of fire after that.”
At 197, Wright edged a relentless McIntosh 5-4 in sudden victory. McIntosh, the Lions’ starter at 197 last season while Wright was at 184, is redshirting this season.
“Quentin also wrestled well, beating Morgan,” Sanderson said. “That’s a great match. I think Morgan pushed him and that’s what we want.”
Lawson lost 12-1 to NCAA All-American Nick Gwiazdowski in the finals at 285. Before that, Jon Gingrich dropped his semifinal match in which he was pinned by Gwiazdowski. Gingrich won his third-place bout over The Citadel’s Odie Delaney, 14-1.
Due to the tournament’s format — final bouts were wrestled simultaneously on 10 mats — Sanderson said it was tough to evaluate all of his wrestlers, including Lawson and Gingrich, who are both vying for the chance to start at heavyweight.
“They both have areas they need to work on but they both have a lot of promise and a lot of positives,” Sanderson said.
Gulibon and Frank Martellotti showed off more positives at 133. Martellotti finished third after posting a solid 4-1 record in which he outscored his opponents 42-19. Gulibon outscored his foes 41-14 before losing to Lehigh’s Mason Beckman 3-2 in the finals.
Jordan Conaway, who started the season-opening dual, went 2-2. Despite the performances of Gulibon and Martellotti and a recent season-ending injury to co-starter Nate Morgan, Sanderson said he still is planning a redshirt year for Gulibon.
“We’re comfortable. I believe in Conaway,” Sanderson said. “He’s a kid that’s going to hustle and I know when you put him in the spotlight, he’ll even wrestle better.”