PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – The Penn State University math majors were working during Saturday’s first session.
With the program’s first championship since 1953 within reach, it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when.’
When Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff beat Cornell’s Mike Grey for fifth place at 133 and PSU’s Andrew Long rallied to beat Central Michigan’s Scotti Sentes for third at the same weight, the Nittany Lion lead was 102.5 to 88.5, a 14-point advantage ahead of Cornell.
Fittingly, when Penn State’s Ed Ruth and Cornell’s Mack Lewnes didn’t end with a pin – in Lewnes’ favor – the team title was mathematically clinched.
“This is a real tough tournament. Things go your way sometimes and sometimes they don’t,” said second-year Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson after Ruth’s victory against Lewnes. “You just have to want it and you can see it the kids’ eyes before they wrestle. I really liked the way guys wrestled this week.
“Our guys today did a great job. They made it really easy for our guys in the finals. Now they can just focus on going out there and chasing their dream.”
Ruth had to injury default his quarterfinal match to Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui on Friday morning. There was questions as to whether he could come back.
Ruth, the No. 2 seed at 174, came back with a 7-6 win and a 42-second pin on Friday night. After beating Virginia’s Chris Henrich, he finished off Lewnes and Cornell.
“It’s a big honor [to clinch the team title],” Ruth said. “I was thinking of my knee and all the things that could go wrong and all the things that could go right.”
Added Sanderson, “To do that as freshman, to have that kind of frustration and then come back to beat some tough kids, it really shows a lot of who Ed Ruth is. Just really proud of him.”
The battle of attrition was all-but-decided on Friday night when the Nittany Lions pushed three into the finals and the Big Red saw Lewnes, third-seed Steve Bozak and No. 1 seed Cam Simaz lose back-to-back semifinal matches.
PSU, Cornell, Iowa and Minnesota all finish with five All-Americans with Oklahoma State and American leading a pack of 10 with three apiece.
“This tournament is going to take five or six All-Americans [to win],” said Oklahoma State coach John Smith before the tournament. “And you have to have high All-Americans, a couple of guys in the finals and two or three high finishers. If you have less than five you aren’t going to have a chance.”
The Cowboys put two in the finals but only managed one other All-American – 149-pounder Jamal Parks.
Penn State’s Frank Molinaro, David Taylor and Quentin Wright still have a match to wrestle in the finals Saturday night. Sophomore 133-pounder Andrew Long bounced back from a semifinal loss to win two matches, including a pin of Cornell’s Mike Grey Saturday morning. Long, a transfer from Iowa State, lost in the 125-pound final in 2010 and finished third in 2011.
“(Long) has been a big part of this team,” Sanderson said. “He brings intensity everyday, a good attitude to practice. He was a big addition to our program.”
Iowa, winners of three consecutive team titles from 2008 to 2010, pushed just one to a final and saw Montell Marion, Derek St. John and Grant Gambrall take fourth place.
Utah Valley’s Ben Kjar finished fourth at 125 pounds. The senior dropped a 4-2 decision to top-seeded Anthony Robles of Arizona State in Friday’s semifinals. After winning a bout Saturday morning, Kjar lost to Northwestern’s Brandon Precin in the third-place match.
Kjar (30-8) is the first Division I All-American in program history.
“I’m happy for the program,” said Penn State assistant coach Cody Sanderson, who was the school’s first coach in 2003 when wrestling was added. “It’s important for a young program like (Utah Valley) to have All-Americans. It’s not easy at a place like that, it takes a lot of work.
“I’m very happy for (Kjar).”
American’s Steve Fittery finished his career as a four-time All-American, twice in Division II for Shippensburg (Pa.) State and twice in DI for the Eagles. The Pennsylvania native, who finished this season 33-1, took third at 157 after beating Boise State’s Adam Hall and Iowa’s Dan St. John on Saturday.
Minnesota’s Zach Sanders, Northwestern’s Brandon Precin, Illinois’ James Kennedy, Wisconsin’s Andrew Howe, Virginia’s Chris Henrich each picked up their third All-America medal this week. Sanders, fifth at 125 pounds, and Howe, third at 165 after winning the title in 2010, will be back for one more season.
The next one?
University of Oklahoma head coach Jack Spates announced his retirement earlier this season. The Division II champion for Slippery Rock as a student-athlete in 1973 and Division I finalist in 1974 saw Jarrod Patterson, seventh at 125, and Zack Bailey, seventh at 141, finish as All-Americans in his final season.
Spates will coach one last time on the big stage Saturday night when Tyler Caldwell faces Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs in the 165-pound final.
Word around Philadelphia is that former world champion and current assistant coach Sam Henson will take over the program which has won seven NCAA championships, the last in 1974 under Stan Abel.
Iron Man Award(s)
Maryland heavyweight Spencer Myers lost a 9-7 overtime match to Indiana’s Ricky Alcala in the first round on Thursday morning. The freshman from Selinsgrove, Pa., came back to win five matches before falling to Missouri’s Dom Bradley in the wrestleback semifinals.
Myers (30-11) wrestled seven matches in three days and took home a sixth-place medal after falling to Alcala again in the fifth-place match.
Northwestern 149-pounder Andrew Nadhir, the 11th seed, was pinned by Lehigh’s Joey Napoli in the first round. Nadhir, a senior from Michigan, had to go overtime to beat Pitt’s Dane Johnson in his first wrestleback, and again against Wyoming’s Cole Dallaserra two rounds later, on his march to a sixth-place showing.
Like Myers, Nadhir (34-7) wrestled seven matches in the tournament, losing to Oklahoma State’s Jamal Parks in the fifth-place contest.