PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“All of our young guys wrestled well (Thursday), but we’ve still got a lot of wrestling left,” said Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson. “We’ve got some big rounds still ahead of us.
“It gets tougher from here.”
Said Rob Koll’s Cornell Big Red during Thursday night’s session: “When you are wrestling in a tournament at this high of a level, you are inevitably going to have some setbacks. We’ve got three seniors who are probably going to have knee surgery when the season is over, so we’ve got some guys giving life and limb, finding ways to win.
“We’ve got guys not just wrestling for themselves, but for the team. The same thing is going on for Penn State.”
The Nittany Lions weren’t perfect on Thursday … but pretty close.
After 125-pounder Brad Pataky dropped a first-round match, Penn State rattled off 15 consecutive wins. In the process Sanderson’s group pushed seven into Friday’s quarterfinals of the 81st NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Wells Fargo Arena.
Cornell and Iowa kept five in the championship bracket with Wisconsin and Oklahoma State each pushing four.
The top 10 team scores at the end of Day 1 included: Penn State 30 ½, Cornell 29, Oklahoma State and Iowa with 25, American 23 ½, Arizona State 21, Wisconsin 20, Boise State 19 ½, Minnesota 19 and Nebraska 18 ½.
Sophomore Grant Gambrall (21-7) and Iowa let the rest of the field know that the Hawkeyes weren’t going to give up the title without a fight. The UI sophomore upset fifth-seeded Joe LeBlanc of Wyoming 8-3 at 184 pounds. It was LeBlanc’s third loss in 28 matches this season.
After losing in the first round, Iowa 165-pounder Aaron Janssen battled back to beat Oklahoma State’s Dallas Bailey 10-6 in the wrestlebacks.
“I know I can beat all these guys if I wrestle well,” Gambrall said. “If I wrestle my match and I go to my offense and I stay in position and battle in every position, that’s the way I look at it every time – treat it like a practice. I work my butt off in practice, there’s no one who works harder in the country, so treat it like a practice and things will work out.”
As expected, defending 125-pound king Matt McDonough (25-1) added his second bonus-point victory of the weekend, while Montell Marion (141) and Luke Lofthouse (197) also stayed in the winner’s bracket.
But it was Penn State who kept the place buzzing all day.
Rookie Andrew Alton (30-8) followed a first-round pin with a major decision in the evening session. David Taylor, another first-year starter, moved to 36-0 with a technical fall in the second round. Ed Ruth, the third of PSU’s fantastic freshmen, improved to 34-1 with a win against Minnesota’s Scott Glasser in the second round.
“It feels like a regular tournament,” Alton said. “You wrestle hard and you get your hand raised out there. I was a little bit nervous but you’re always going to have nerves. You just have to go out there and compete.”
Add Andrew Long, who beat Minnesota’s David Thorn in overtime at 133; Frank Molinaro, who held off Virginia’s Derek Valenti at 149; Quentin Wright (184) and Cameron Wade (285) and PSU will take massive momentum into Day 2.
Cornell also suffered a setback at 125 when Frank Perelli was pinned by Kent State’s Nick Bedelyon in the evening session. But veteran Mike Grey knocked off Virginia Tech’s talented freshman Devin Carter at 133 pounds; Kyle Dake won a second bout at 149; Mack Lewnes and Steve Bozak had pins at 174 and 184, respectively; while top-seeded 197-pounder Cam Simaz also moved into the quarters.
Oklahoma State showed some signs of life in the afternoon after a 5-5 first session. The Cowboys got their second first-period pin of the day by top-seeded 133-pounder Jordan Oliver (26-0) and a major decision by senior 197-pounder Clayton Foster (24-0) to go with decisions by Jamal Parks (27-3 at 149) and Chris Perry (25-5 at 184).
However, ninth-seeded 125-pounder Jon Morrison and the sixth-seeded Bailey each went 0-2 and were eliminated.
Wisconsin still has Tyler Graff (35-3 at 133), 2010 NCAA champion Andrew Howe (24-2 at 165), Travis Rutt (35-2 at 184) and Trevor Brandvold (16-0 at 197) still on the championship side of the brackets.
Minnesota struggled in the second round, winning just two of seven matches, while Virginia Tech was 0-6 in the championship bracket’s second round.
American had a strong first day, pushing three into the quarterfinals highlighted by Steve Fittery’s two impressive technical falls at 157 and Ganbayar Sanjaa’s two victories at 149. Heavyweight Ryan Flores also won a pair of bouts.
Wrestling begins at 10:30 a.m. (ET) on Friday morning.
North Carolina State’s Darrion Caldwell, champion in 2009 and native of New Jersey, suffered an injury during his second-round match against Michigan’s Eric Grajales and had to default. Caldwell, who entered the week with a 14-0 record and as the No. 1 seed at 149 pounds, won his first match against UNC-Greensboro’s Ivan Lopouchanski 18-7. Against Grajales, during a scramble, Caldwell dislocated a shoulder and had to exit the tournament.
Elite 88 for 2011
Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui was honored for a second consecutive year with the NCAA’s Elite 88 Award, given to the student-athlete in the competition with the highest grade-point average. The civil engineering major recorded a 3.944 GPA last fall. In 2010 he finished fourth at 165 pounds to earn All-America honors.
On Thursday, the senior 174-pounder won a pair of matches to improve to 29-3 and advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.
Boise State’s Kirk Smith, a runner-up at 184 pounds in 2010, was injured late in the season and never recovered. The senior lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Championships and defaulted out of the tournament. After receiving an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships, Smith defaulted both of his matches in Philadelphia.
Two battered and bruised former All-Americans met in the first round of wrestlebacks Thursday night. Iowa State senior Chris Drouin, a top eight finisher for Arizona State in 2009, beat Chattanooga’s Cody Cleveland, an All-American in 2007, by a 7-3 count.
Duke sophomore Diego Bencomo (27-14), a native of Arizona, received the medical forfeit from Smith, and then took advantage a round later by upsetting sixth-seeded Ryan Loder of Northern Iowa.
By the numbers
After five first-round overtime matches at heavyweight, three of the eight bouts in the second round needed extra sessions. Top-seeded Zach Rey (31-1) beat Virginia Tech’s David Marone 3-1; Oklahoma’s Nathan Fernandez (22-5) beat Iowa’s Blake Rasing 3-1; and second-seeded Jarod Trice of Central Michigan beat Indiana’s Ricky Alcala 3-2 in extra periods.