The moment David Taylor has visualized — when he’s awoken, while he’s practiced and before he’s gone to sleep for every day for over a year — is almost upon him.
Now, the Penn State junior just has to wait a few more hours to defend his 165-pound NCAA Wrestling Championship against the best opponent fate could offer.
Taylor will face Cornell’s Kyle Dake in the NCAA finals inside Wells Fargo Center. Four of Taylor’s Penn State teammates will also get a chance to vie for individual championships and try to propel Penn State to its third straight NCAA team title.
Meanwhile, Centre County will be well represented in the finals, as Penn State’s Quentin Wright, a Bald Eagle Area High School graduate, and Edinboro’s Mitchell Port, a Bellefonte alum, will wrestle for championships at 197 and 141 pounds, respectively.
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Nico Megaludis (125), Matt Brown (174) and Ed Ruth (184) will also wrestle for championships for the Nittany Lions, whose 114.5 points lead Oklahoma State by 20.5 in the team race.
But all eyes will await Dake-Taylor III.
“We’re going to shake hands. There’s going to be a lot of wrestling done. And I’m going to get my hand raised at the end,” Taylor said after he pinned Virginia Tech’s Peter Yates in 3:25 in the semifinals. “That was my vision since the beginning of the season and the All-Star match was a great match, the (Southern) Scuffle was a good match, but when it’s all said and done, people aren’t going to remember what happened at the All-Star match and the Scuffle, they’re going to remember what happens (Saturday).”
It will be their third meeting this season and Taylor is still looking for his first win against the Cornell senior. Dake won 2-1 in an exhibition preseason all-star match and then turned in a 3-2 win over Taylor in the Southern Scuffle finale in January.
Dake moved on with a 2-0 decision over Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell and will try to become the first college wrestler to win four national titles at four different weight classes.
“He’s a goer and that’s his M.O. I think my defense, counter-offense is really good and if he makes a mistake I’m going to pounce on it,” Dake said. “He’s going out and he’s basically imposing his will. Everyone’s scared to wrestle him. But I’m not scared. I’m not going to let him do that.”
Taylor has run roughshod over the field he dominated last season. So far he’s got four falls in this tournament and has seven total pins in his last eight NCAA tournament bouts.
The reigning Hodge Trophy Winner, Taylor was nearly at a loss for words when asked to describe where his sudden pinning prowess comes from at this time of year.
“I get in this tournament and something happens where I learn how to pin people,” Taylor said. “But I’m not complaining. This is a tournament where bonus points are everything.”
And Megaludis, Brown and Ruth have pulled their weight while Wright has picked up extra points when he’s been able to.
The former Bald Eagle Area star will wrestle his final career bout against top-seeded Dustin Kilgore of Kent State on Saturday night. Wright, who whipped Minnesota’s Scott Schiller to his back for a fall in the quarters, met an old foe in Matt Wilps in the semis.
Wright outlasted Wilps with a 4-3 win in the second tiebreaker period at 197. Then, the Penn State senior was able to hold on for a five-second ride in the second tiebreaker period, then Wright chose down to start the tiebreaking period and escaped in five seconds. When it was Wilps turn to take the bottom position, Wright held him down for eight seconds, winning the match by virtue of a three-second advatage in riding time.
“When I got in that position I knew I had to get out as fast as I could and then I had to hold him for at least one more second,” Wright said.
Wright was reminded of the tiebreaking process — which he said he’s never experienced that much in his career — by watching Megaludis’ semifinal bout with No. 1-seeded Alan Waters of Missouri at 125.
Megaludis advanced to the 125-pound finals for the second straight season with a 3-2 decision over Waters in a grueling affair. Both wrestlers defended the others’ shots throughout the bout. But in the second tiebreaker period, Megaludis — who was disappointed with his wrestling from the bottom position on Day 1 — exploded out from under Waters in just three seconds.
It would prove to be the deciding factor as Megaludis put together a long enough ride — 18 seconds — before Waters could escape to win the bout on the riding time advantage.
“I knew it was going to come down to riding because he’s really good on top,” Megaludis said. “I just needed to use my bottom skills and not let him ride me and pretty much use my attitude.”
Megaludis will meet Illinois’ Jesse Delgado, the No. 2 seed, in the finals. It will be the fourth time the two will have wrestled this season.
Delgado beat Cornell’s Nahshon Garret, 10-5. In the regular season, Megaludis won two of their three bouts. Megaludis won 3-2 in an exhibition at the NWCA All-Star Classic and then pinned Delgado in a memorable bout during the dual meet season. Delgado beat Megaludis 6-3 in their most recent match at the Big Ten Tournament, however.
“I don’t think he’s any different,” Megaludis said, comparing Delgado’s style to Waters. “He was better than me that match but that was one match and this was a different match. I’ve got to be offensive but be aware of his quickness. I need to get after it without being sloppy.”
Ruth was pushed like he hasn’t been all season by former State College High star Steve Bosak. While Bosak was the defending 184-pound champion, he couldn’t get his offense going against Ruth who wrestled a stingy match that ended in his favor, 4-1.
On the other side of the bracket, Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin beat Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett, 3-2, to set up another showdown with Ruth.
“Every time I step on the mat there is a different gameplan,” said Ruth, who edged Hamlin 11-9 in November. “I never go with the same gameplan every single match. Some guys do. I go out there and perform and depending on how the first round goes, I kind of make a plan from there.”
Although the lights inside the Wells Fargo Arena went out during his match, Brown wasn’t affected and upended Minnesota’s Logan Storley, 3-2 in a 174-semifinal bout. Brown will face No. 1 seed Chris Perry of Oklahoma State in the finals.
“I have refined a lot of areas, my setups to my finishes, even to my riding,” Brown said. “They’ve just been tweaked here and there and I can see improvements.”
Perhaps no Penn State wrestler improved as much as 133-pounder Jordan Conaway this season, however. Conaway, who was a walk-on at Penn State after his original college plans — which included a scholarship — evaporated when Liberty declassified its wrestling program, came one win away from reaching All-America status. The redshirt freshman was bounced from the tournament by eighth-seeded Cody Brewer of Oklahoma 14-4.
Shortly thereafter, 157-pounder Dylan Alton missed out on his second All-America honor. Alton was also one win shy when he lost to Nebraska’s James Green, 14-4 in a consolation bout.