Three weeks from from now, Penn State will host Lock Haven in its season-opening dual meet.
On Friday night, fans showed their excitement for the upcoming year as the Nittany Lion wrestling team hosted a kickoff event inside Rec Hall.
“It gives them (the fans) a chance to mingle with us,” redshirt senior Jordan Conaway said of the event. “It gives the fans an idea of how practice is ran.”
Fans were able to purchase tickets to attend an open practice for the squad. Some fans got a buffet dinner and practice while others just took in the practice.
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson described the event much like a scientific experiment.
“We are just trying to see if we can create a good event,” Sanderson said. “We’ve had season kickoffs in the past but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. This is a little something we are more comfortable with. We just want to run a practice and give our supporters and fans a chance to see the team in action.
“To grow something, you got to get started so we just wanted to get started and see where we go from there.”
The atmosphere was smaller in stature then for a normal Nittany Lion match, where only standing room tickets are available. Three mats side by side were laid out in the middle of the Rec Hall floor with fans sitting on either side. Before the practice began, a handful of wrestlers stepped forward and spoke to the crowd. After the speeches were over, fans got a small glimpse of what a Penn State practice looks like.
Even though it was just a practice, Sanderson felt it was a good learning moment for his team.
“I feel like it’s a match,” he said. “I mean just the whole feel. The mats are out, it’s Rec Hall, they (the wrestlers) should have butterflies and get that prematch feelings. It’s great preparation for us.
“For the freshmen, the more they can get into Rec Hall and get a feel for whats going to happen and make this their home the better. This is a tough place to compete.”
Monty Christiansen was one of those fans who had dinner and a show, so to speak. However, what makes the story better is that Christiansen grew up in Iowa and graduated from Iowa State. He said that when he and his wife head to New York for the NCAA National Championships in March, it will be the 47th consecutive year. Christiansen has been a Penn State fan since 1969 and he described Friday’s event as an eye-opener.
“This event is essentially the beginning of the season,” Christiansen said. “However, we get to see the new faces that we haven’t seen since last season and see what weight class changes that have occured. But, not to expect any really serious action because we don’t want to have these ‘fellas’ get injured before the season.”
Some of those new faces included old faces.
Three-time All-American Nico Megaludis and All-American Zain Retherford made their return to the Penn State mats after redshirting last season. Megaludis, who is entering his last season, said he was just going to try and take in the moment.
“The main thing this year is enjoy every second,” Megaludis said. “It just goes so quick. We even try to convey that message to the guys to just take advantage of every second.”
There were a few alumni on hand as well. Obviously, Frank Molinaro, who is an assistant coach, was there handling coaching duties but David Taylor and Jake Varner were on the mats as well. Molinaro was practicing with Jason Nolf while Taylor was paired up with Bo Nickal and Varner was teamed up with Morgan McIntosh.
Molinaro equated the event to a family reunion.
“It’s good to get everyone back together before the season starts,” Molinaro said. “It’s really exciting for everyone to feel the beginning of the season coming so close. It also brings more excitement to the beginning of the year. It’s a good chance to see some wrestling, talk to some fans and kind of bring everyone together.”
Taylor, on the other hand, said it was just another way the program’s fans stand out above the crowd.
“Each one of those guys that came out and spoke about their experience at Penn State,” he said, “described what they love the most, and it’s this fan base. I think each one personally would say how grateful they are to step out on a mat and have 6,000 people rooting for you to win.
“To come to an event like this that’s not a match but an open practice, it says a lot about the program and the excitement to watch these guys go compete. As an alumni, I’m just super proud and thankful to be a part of the program.”