UNIVERSITY PARK — Frank Martellotti came into Penn State as a true freshman in 2010 as a talented prospect who immediately started to build momentum as one of the Nittany Lions’ most talented lighter wrestlers.
He’s since felt it trail off.
But Martellotti, who began his collegiate career by winning 18 of 21 bouts at 125 pounds and followed that with a 9-11 sophomore campaign at 133 last season, hasn’t lost his focus despite losing his spot in Penn State’s starting lineup. In fact, Martellotti said he’s more focused than he’s been in a long time after enduring a lackluster sophomore stretch that was truncated by eligibility issues during the first half of the season.
Now Martellotti can focus on improving his craft without the worry of competing for a starting spot. Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said he has decided to redshirt Martellotti this season. Martellotti will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“I’m always ready to go if the coaches need me, but for now that’s what the plan is,” Martellotti said.
He drew praise from Sanderson after posting an impressive performance at the team’s Nittany Lion Open on Sunday. Martellotti went 4-1 to place third and outscored his 133-pound foes 40-12 in his four wins.
It was encouraging progress for Martellotti, who hadn’t lost in ten dual meets before finishing last season on a six-match losing streak before the postseason began.
“It’s been a while since I’ve really competed, but I felt pretty good and even from last year, I don’t remember feeling as good as I did at (the Nittany Lion Open),” Martellotti said. “Obviously, there’s still room for improvement.”
Martellotti never seemed comfortable at 133 pounds last season and said he felt like he was playing catch up after missing the first half of the season wherein he was ineligible to compete. Confidence was his biggest issues, he said.
“You can tell from my matches,” Martellotti said. “I made it to nationals and that was great, but that’s not really what the goal is if you think about it. It was more mental than anything. I know I can go out and wrestle well you just can’t worry about it.”
But Martellotti went 1-2 in the NCAA tournament. His next action for Penn State came at the intrasquad dual in November when he lost to sophomore Jordan Conaway. Wrestling unattached at the NLO, however, Martellotti said he felt rejuvenated. He beat Clarion’s Joe Waltko 9-2 before winning by technical fall with a takedown clinic against The Citadel’s Aaron Hansen, 16-0. In the quarters, Martellotti wrestled a smart match, beating Anthony Abiden of Nassau 6-4. He advanced to the semis where true freshman teammate Jimmy Gulibon waited.
“I think our guys wrestled well in that weight, especially Jimmy,” Martellotti said. “He was tearing through guys.”
Martellotti’s lone loss came to Gulibon, the true freshman from Derry Area High School, who beat Martellotti 7-2 in the semifinals. Martellotti went on to beat Ohio State’s Johnni DeJulius 9-6 for third place.
Gulibon is also redshirting, but Sanderson hasn’t ruled out using either of them in the lineup this season in the wake of an unexpected injury. Sophomore Nate Morgan, who Sanderson wanted to compete with sophomore Jordan Conaway for the spot at 133, was lost to a season-ending knee injury against West Virginia earlier this season.
Martellotti is experienced and will be ready should he be called on to burn the redshirt.
“You’re still looking to get better every day in practice, as much as you can,” Martellotti said. “And then you can never rule out wrestling 100 percent. You always have to be ready to go and in that mindset. So I train like I would if I was not redshirting.”
English gets extra year
Fifth-year senior James English has been granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA.
English, who missed all of two seasons, including the 2008-09 and all of last season with numerous injuries, plans to return for his sixth year in the program. He’s proven himself to be a tough workout partner for Penn State’s middleweight bunch and a viable replacement as the team’s starter at 149 pounds.
Although English was hampered by numerous shoulder ailments that required season-ending surgery last year, he slotted in for Andrew Alton for Penn State’s first two duals this season. The Lions haven’t missed a beat with the gritty Central York product in the mix. English turned in a major decision against West Virginia’s Brutus Scheffel. He beat the country’s then-No. 18 ranked Shane Welsh 5-2 when Penn State hosted Lehigh.
English, who went 5-1 at the Nittany Lion Open and finished third at 149 pounds, is 37-12 in his career so far at Penn State.
Alton ready to go full time
With his five-pin, championship performance at the Nittany Lion Open on Sunday, Andrew Alton left little to be gleaned from the first month of the season in which he missed two duals with an ankle injury.
Often describing it as no big deal, and that he would wrestle had it been a postseason tournament, Alton never appeared to be in rough shape although he was questionable for the team’s first two duals. Now there’s no question. Alton will start at 149 when Penn State wrestles Indiana on Sunday at Rec Hall.
“It’s in real good shape,” Alton said of his ankle.
Movers and shakers
Although the Nittany Lions opened the season as the No. 2-ranked team in the USA Today/NWCA/ASWN Division I Coaches Poll, the defending Big Ten and National Champions are back at the top.
Penn State (2-0, 0-0) garnered nine of 10 first-place votes to overtake Oklahoma State (2-0) and Minnesota (6-1) as the top team in the country. The Cowboys beat the Golden Gophers 22-15 on Sunday in Minneapolis.
In addition, four of the Nittany Lions’ stocks changed as the Intermat individual rankings did on Tuesday.
After a 3-2 loss to Anthony Zanetta in the Nittany Lion Open 125-pound finale on Sunday, Sophomore Nico Megaludis fell from No. 2 to No. 3. Meanwhile, Andrew Alton gained a spot at 149 moving from NO. 6 to No. 5.
Senior 141-pounder Bryan Pearsall, who made his season debut in the rankings last week dropped out of the Top 25 this week. On the other side, sophomore heavyweight Jimmy Lawson made his first appearance at No. 15 among heavyweights.
Lawson lost 12-1 to NC State’s Nick Gwiazdowski in the NLO heavyweight final.
Penn State wrestlers have never put too much stock in their own stocks as determined by rankings, however.
“Fifteenth, it’s nice to be on the paper and in the rankings but I hope he didn’t come to Penn State to be ranked fifteenth,” Sanderson said, “He’s got work to continue to do and he’s got what he needs here to make that happen.”