High School Sports

Penn State wrestling: Seniors Wright, Pearsall expect a bittersweet finale

Bryan Pearsall never thought of giving up. Quentin Wright never thought he’d end up anywhere else.

Sunday is the last time Penn State fans will get to see the two senior wrestlers in action inside Rec Hall when No. 3 Penn State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) hosts Rider (10-6).

It’s been five years that fans have packed the bleachers in the old building to watch the duo practice their craft. They’ve employed different styles and achieved different results. Both have struggled at times. Both have electrified their admirers with their own signature brands of wrestling.

Now, both will bow out one final time — Wright as the hometown fan-favorite who’s already achieved most of his collegiate goals; and Pearsall as the perennial underdog, a wrestler still hungry for his first shot at postseason glory.

“They’re both just guys that love wrestling and have a passion for wrestling and have done tremendous things for the program — Bryan in his own way and Quentin in his own way,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “They’re guys that we’re not real excited that they’re seniors.”

When Sanderson arrived on campus in time for the 2009-10 season, Wright was coming off a stellar freshman season that saw him go 33-13 and finish as an All-American under Troy Sunderland. Pearsall redshirted as a true freshman.

At that point, both were unsure how their careers would unfold.

Wright went on to take the next season off, following it with consecutive appearances in the NCAA finals. He won the NCAA title at 174 pounds and then lost to Steve Bosak of Cornell at 184 last season. Now, Wright is wrestling at the highest level his coaches and teammates have ever seen. The former Bald Eagle Area standout has said numerous times that this being his last season has fueled him.

“Wow, this is it. This is the last home match,” Wright said. “It’s like winning a state title my senior year. It’s the last match in front of the crowd type thing. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on it and it’s been such a great time at Penn State.”

While losing the national championship last season coupled with a mid-season injury that slowed him the year before were the more challenging career moments for Wright to overcome, Pearsall has never had difficulty stumbling into adversity.

It always seems to await the lanky, soft-spoken wrestler from Lititz, Pa.

He quickly points out a disastrous redshirt-freshman campaign in 2009-10.

“That first season where I was 3-23, a lot of kids don’t come back from that,” Pearsall said. “I just used that adversity as a character builder and just use it to stay humble.”

Since then Pearsall has turned in 13-6 and 15-12 seasons. He missed out on getting an at-large bid for last season’s NCAA tournament despite beating a Top 25 wrestler by fall early in the season and wrestling seven other wrestlers ranked in the Top 10 and giving up bonus points just twice.

So far this season, Pearsall is off to his best start with 17 wins and just seven losses. He’s missed Penn State’s last two duals, however, with an unspecified injury. Pearsall vowed before the team’s practice on Tuesday that he would be “100 percent” ready to wrestle against Rider’s projected 141-pound starter, sophomore Vinny Fava.

“I feel like, I’ve had to work my tail off to get to the point where I’m at,” Pearsall said.

So have James English, Andrew Church, Nick Fischer and Derek Reber, all of which will also be honored as seniors. English, who has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA earlier this season. English has expressed his desire to continue his career next season.

Meanwhile, Church, Fischer and Reber — who transferred from Bucknell — have all put in their time inside the Nittany Lions’ Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, providing depth and wrestling as training partners as the starters have turned in back-to-back Big Ten and NCAA Championship seasons.

“I’ve had a range of emotions just thinking about it. It’s hard to comprehend,” Pearsall said of his last home dual meet. “I’ve just been part of this program for so long now it’s going to be bittersweet, that’s for sure.”