Penn State wrestling coaches set up a mat, dimmed the lights inside an empty Rec Hall, pointed a spotlight to the middle of the circle and Jon Gingrich and Jimmy Lawson finally went at it.
Their match, held last Friday to settle what had been a neck-and-neck battle to become the team’s starting heavyweight, was witnessed by a select few. With the Rec Hall bleachers empty, only grunts, groans and coaches’ orders echoed through the cavernous room.
On Sunday, it was a much different scene.
With a shutout at stake, a capacity crowd of 6,353 shook the building as Gingrich — a 3-1 winner against Lawson in their wrestleoff — speared Michigan State’s Michael McClure, the nation’s No. 4 heavyweight, to the mat to secure No. 1 Penn State’s 41-0 win over the Spartans (4-6, 0-3).
“He was wrestling the No. 4 guy in the country and (Gingrich) just took it to him,” Penn State senior James English said. “I’m not one to get excited too often, but I was on my feet — practically on the mat telling the ref to count the back points.”
Gingrich’s powerful, driving double-leg takedown set him up to tilt McClure for two nearfall points, and coupled with an early escape, clinch the 5-3 win.
A sophomore from Bald Eagle Area, Gingrich was all smiles after his match, especially considering Lawson upstaged him earlier this month at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. There, Lawson went 4-2 and placed seventh while Gingrich didn’t place, going 2-2.
The disappointing start to the new year fueled his rugged training sessions over the last few weeks, Gingrich said.
“The Scuffle didn’t go as planned,” Gingrich said. “I had all the intentions to go down there and win it and after I lost my first consolation match, I wasn’t focused and it showed.”
Although his performance at the Scuffle wasn’t up to his own standards, Gingrich has excelled in duals for No. 1 Penn State (5-0, 2-0). He beat Indiana’s then-No. 8 Adam Chalfant 6-5 earlier this season.
Now, Gingrich has won the heavyweight spot. As Penn State coach Cael Sanderson put it: “He’s carrying the ball right now.”
No. 1 125-pounder Nico Megaludis got the ball rolling with takedown after takedown in a 19-6 win over Brenan Lyons. Jordan Conaway and Bryan Pearsall added wins at 133 and 141 pounds, respectively. Conaway beat Brandon Fifield 7-2 while Pearsall added a 10-2 major decision over Nick Trimble.
English shut out Dan Osterman 6-0 at 149 pounds before James Vollrath added Penn State’s first win over one of Michigan State’s two ranked wrestlers.
Filling in at 157 pounds for Dylan Alton, who is suspended until Jan. 22 along with his brother Andrew, Vollrath gave up an early takedown to No. 19 David Cheza before escaping prior to the end of the first period. In the second, Vollrath gave up an escape, then took Cheza down to tie the bout. But Cheza escaped to regain his lead.
Vollrath chose down to start the third period, escaped and repeatedly worked for a takedown. He got it via a high-crotch sweep with just 10 seconds remaining to post his first dual-meet win of the season, 6-4.
It was an encouraging bout for Vollrath, who stepped in for Dylan Alton at the Southern Scuffle and made it all the way to the finals, where he lost in sudden victory to No. 14 Jedd Moore of Virginia.
“I’m prepared for anybody that I wrestle,” Vollrath said. “I just go out there and wrestle my match. The Scuffle was definitely a confidence-builder for me.”
No. 2-ranked 165-pounder David Taylor dominated Nick Proctor. Taylor worked for three takedowns and two nearfall points before he pinned Proctor in just 1:23. No. 3 Matt Brown followed suit at 174 for Penn State with a dismantling of Jordan Wohlfert. Brown earned a 23-7 technical fall with nine takedowns and three nearfall points in 6:17.
No. 1 Ed Ruth made quick work of John Rizqallah at 184, cradling the Michigan State sophomore for a fall in 1:37. No. 3 Quentin Wright kept the offense coming at 197, racking up three first-period takedowns in a 13-4 major decision against Luke Jones.
Gingrich followed with his win over McClure to preserve the shutout.
“It was pretty crazy,” Gingrich said. “It reminded me a lot of the Indiana match, with the explosion of cheers. That feeling, you can’t replace it with anything else. It’s so amazing.”
Notes: It was Penn State’s second shutout in its last three duals. The Nittany Lions blanked Indiana 52-0 on Dec. 9. Penn State won the takedown battle 33-1. Gingrich won the Ridge Riley Award, presented to the most outstanding wrestler in a home dual. Ruth (16-0) and Wright (15-0) remained unbeaten on the season. Members of the State College youth wrestling program wrestled during intermission. Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien took in the action from the bleachers.