When it mattered most, Penn State’s best wrestlers delivered Sunday at the 2013 Big Ten Wrestling Championships.
The Nittany Lions fended off a challenge from Minnesota to win their third consecutive Big Ten championship at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall.
Penn State crowned four champions, going 4-0 in the finals, and amassed a school-record 151 team points to take the title. The Golden Gophers, who had two champs, were 12 points behind with 139. Iowa placed third with 133.5 points after going 0-4 in the finals. Ohio State crowned two champions and claimed fourth with 109.5. Illinois, with one champion, rounded out the top five with 84.5 points. Northwestern was the only other team to claim a champion.
For the third straight year, Cael Sanderson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, this time sharing the honor with Minnesota’s J Robinson. Ed Ruth was voted the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year.
The two-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions were tied with Minnesota for the team lead after the 157-pound place matches had been contested. That’s when Penn State reeled off four consecutive championships to win going away.
“They showed a lot of resilience just battling back,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson told the Big Ten Network. “These two days show you just how tough you are.”
David Taylor (165 pounds), Matt Brown (174), Ruth (184) and Quentin Wright (197) all won championships for the Nittany Lions.
Nico Megaludis (125) was third, Andrew Alton (149) placed fourth, Jordan Conaway (133) and Bryan Pearsall (141) were fifth, Dylan Alton (157) took sixth and Jimmy Lawson (285) came in eighth.
All 10 Nittany Lions earned berths to the 2013 NCAA Championships from March 21-23 at the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s the first time since 1997 that Penn State will send its entire lineup to an NCAA tournament.
Taylor posted a 9-1 major decision over Illinois No. 2 seed Conrad Polz in the final, but the Illini made him earn every point. Taylor scored a first-period takedown, rode Polz for the entire second period and then scored a reversal, two penalty points for Polz stalling, a takedown and a riding time point for the 9-1 major.
It was Taylor’s third consecutive Big Ten championship.
Taylor told the Big Ten Network that he has made wrestling a game.
“It’s a philosophy I adapted when I started wrestling with coach Sanderson,” he said. “I knew I was talented but I let my emotions get into it. To do what he did, he had to make it a game. I’ve got to wrestle well in every position. So far it’s worked out well for me.”
Brown pulled off perhaps the biggest surprise with a 7-3 win over Iowa No. 2 seed Mike Evans, who had defeated Brown in a dual meet between the teams on Feb. 1.
With the match tied 1-1 in the second period, Brown countered an Evans shot and tossed the Hawkeye to his back for five points that fueled the win.
“We were hand fighting hard whole match. He shot in and I countered and put him right to his back,” Brown said to the Big Ten Network. “It was fun getting to wrestle this year. Watching Ed win it all (last year), I thought, ‘I want to do that. That’s my goal.’ I wrote it down last year.”
Ruth, like Taylor, won his third consecutive championship, but Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus challenged him in the 5-3 decision.
Ruth scored takedowns in the first and third periods and added a second-period escape.
“Somebody who comes out and makes the whole match a nail-biter, I really appreciate that,” Ruth told the Big Ten Network. “It adds more to how valuable this tournament is. These are the kind of matches you come away from winning and you feel so proud. It’s always good to be part of momentum and even better to add to the momentum.
Wright made it four in a row when he captured his second Big Ten title, a 5-3 win over Minnesota No. 2 seed Scott Schiller. After a scoreless first period, Wright hit his patented double leg for a takedown in the second and third periods.
“I’m proud I stuck with it. I stayed hopeful,” Wright told the Big Ten Network. “It’s a lot of responsibility. Everybody on the team really had to do their job. For superstar types, we go out there and carry a little bit more, but that makes it all the sweeter.”
Before Taylor, Brown, Ruth and Wright swept to their titles, Sunday hadn’t been entirely kind to the Nittany Lions. Penn State went 2-3 in the consolation semifinals and it lost a seventh-place bout.
Megaludis posted a pair of 4-1 decisions, over Ohio State’s Nikko Triggas and Michigan’s Sean Boyle, to earn his third-place finish.
Andrew Alton, who had been seeded sixth, rolled up a 13-4 major decision over Michigan State’s Dan Osterman before getting decked by No. 2 Ivan Lopouchanski of Purdue in the third-place bout.
Conaway and Pearsall, who each earned their first NCAA berth over the weekend, both bounced back from consolation semifinal losses to place fifth.
Conaway dropped a 7-2 decision to Minnesota’s Chris Dardanes and then, for the second time during the tournament, beat Daryl Thomas of Illinois 4-1. Pearsall was clipped 6-2 by Nick Dardanes and then scored a takedown in the sudden victory period to nip Northwestern’s Pat Greco 4-2.
Dylan Alton was in a nip-and-tuck match with Iowa’s Derek St. John when he was pinned in 6:36. Then, in the fifth-place bout, he was reversed to his back late and lost 6-2 to Minnesota’s Danny Zilverberg.
Lawson lost his only match of the day, getting caught and pinned at the 7:33 mark of the sudden victory period by Michigan State’s Mike McClure.