Andrew Alton has spent enough time battling around Penn State’s Lorenzo Wrestling Complex with James English, Luke Frey and Seth Beitz to know what each one brings to the table.
And while the trio of 149-pounders, not counting Alton, may not get many more opportunities to slot into Penn State’s dual meet lineup this season with Alton now healthy, the services of English, Frey and Beitz are not lost on Alton.
Or any Penn State wrestler or coach for that matter.
“Generally, if you have a successful kid, you don’t have to look to far as to why,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “People around them are pushing them. Whether it’s guys at their own weight, or whether it’s a weight above or a weight below. That’s why you see teams sometimes when they’re good they’re good in bunches and they’re good in rows.”
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While Sanderson was speaking in generalities, he may as well have been describing his own team and its M.O. The Nittany Lions have won back-to-back Big Ten and NCAA championships the last two seasons with 12 different wrestlers stepping on NCAA Tournament mats. Each year, those individual have had some of the nation’s best talent pushing them in the wrestling room.
Last season Matt Brown was the poster boy for Penn State’s impressive depth.
Then a redshirt-freshman, Brown started a handful of times up and down the lineup, wrestling as low as 174 pounds and as high as 197. In between dual starts, Brown was a frequent workout partner with David Taylor and Ed Ruth. Both went on to win national titles.
This season is no different and no weight class is as deep as 149 pounds for the Nittany Lions.
In the latest Amateur Wrestling News Redshirt and Non-Starter rankings, the Nittany Lions have six ranked wrestlers. English, Beitz and Frey are ranked No. 1, No. 5 and No. 9 at 149 pounds, respectively.
“We all help each other work out. We’re all hard workers,” Alton said. “Every one of them is really talented and brings a lot to the team.”
First it was English, who filled in for an injured Alton during the team’s first two duals. Penn State didn’t miss a beat, going 2-0 against Lehigh and West Virginia, duals in which English turned in a decision win over a ranked opponent and a major against the Mountaineers.
English was granted an additional year of eligibility earlier this week after missing two whole seasons with injuries since enrolling at Penn State. With his career extended, English will continue to battle with Alton, Beitz and Frey who all have at least two years of eligibility remaining. Frey has freshman eligibility.
With only one starting spot up for grabs, Penn State reserves aren’t getting restless, however. After all, they thrive on competition.
“You’re not really wrestling to be the number one guy on the team you’re wrestling to be the number one guy in the nation,” Beitz said. “If you’re training and your goal is to be the number one guy in the nation, making the team is pretty simple at the end of the day.”
Sometimes, as Frey said, it is frustrating knowing that the squad is so loaded with talent that it could take something unfortunate to happen to a teammate before most get a chance to start.
“At the same time you’ve got to keep plugging away,” Frey said. “We don’t want anything to happen (injurywise) but you’ve always got to be ready.”
Beitz and Frey made their presences known at the Nittany Lion Open last Sunday. They combined to go 9-3 and joined both English and Alton in the quarterfinals. All-in-all the Nittany Lion foursome went 20-4 and racked up 28 bonus points at the tournament.
All four did so with varying styles.
“You’ve got Andrew who’s just a monster. He can pin you from any which direction,” Frey said. “You’ve got English who’s just a goer, real strong, real fast and a good scrambler. And me and Seth are about the same. Seth’s really good on his feet with defense and attacking, staying after them. So all of our styles are all different and in a way they combine.”
And while only one of them, most likely Alton, will represent Penn State’s 149-pound contingent at NCAAs in March, all of them will have had a role in getting whoever to that point.
“That depth is good, Sanderson said. “Those guys are pushing each other and they’ve also got to be preparing for the future. You never know when you’re opportunity is going to come. You’ve got to make it happen, but every once in a while things open up and you’ve got to be ready for them. Those guys, that’s what they’re doing.”