Penn State hopes to build dynasty
Nittany Lions have won the last two consecutive national titles
One of the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definitions of dynasty is: a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.
Oklahoma State -- then known as Oklahoma A&M and under the guidance of coach Edward C. Gallagher -- won seven consecutive NCAA championships from 1937 to 1946. There was no tournament from 1943-45 due to World War II.
When Dan Gable took the reigns at Iowa, it did not take long before, if you said 'Hawkeyes' and 'wrestling,' you had to add 'dynasty.' Gable’s teams won nine consecutive NCAA titles from 1978-86. Another run of nine was interrupted by Oklahoma State’s title in 1994.
The high-water mark may have come in Gable’s final season, 1997, when his Hawkeyes scored a tournament-record 170 points.
No program other than Iowa or Oklahoma State has won three consecutive Division I wrestling titles.
Might college wrestling be ready to add another? If the third weekend in March of 2012 was any indication, then the answer is a resounding yes.
Penn State won an NCAA Championship in 1953. It took another 58 years for that second title. The wait for No. 3 was one year.
|Remember these guys?|
Wisconsin will not be the only squad to welcome back wrestlers from an Olympic redshirt season.
Missouri did not have an All-American from its 10 qualifiers in St. Louis. That should change in a big way as 2011 bronze medalist Dom Bradley will be among the top 285-pounders in 2012-13.Another big man, Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice, is a two-time All-American. He, like Bradley, took the year off from folkstyle to make a run at an Olympic berth.
Completely under the radar until a victory against Gelogaev at the Reno Tournament of Champions last December was Oregon State’s Chad Hanke. The former 197-pounder will be a factor at 285 pounds next season.Another Chippewa, 133-pounder Scotti Sentes, is a two-time All-American. He joined Trice this season.
Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore won the 197-pound title as a junior in 2011. He returns in 2012-13.The million dollar question is where Tyler Caldwell will surface. As an Oklahoma Sooner, Caldwell is a two-time All-American, losing in the 2011 NCAA final to Jordan Burroughs, a World champion last September. Some say Nebraska, others Oklahoma State with still others proclaiming he’ll be back in Norman for his junior season after the Olympic redshirt. Stay tuned.
Unless something bizarre happens between now and next March in Des Moines, Iowa, the Nittany Lions will be meeting on the big stage to celebrate No. 4 overall -- and a third consecutive. And it’s not just because of the numbers -- of the 143 points scored in St. Louis, wrestlers scoring 111.5 will be back. Put simply, it’s because Penn State is better than everybody else right now.
“They are obviously a very good team,” Minnesota two-time All-American Kevin Steinhaus said after finishing third at 184 pounds in St. Louis. “We had a good tournament, a real good tournament, and we finish second by how much? Everybody has to get to work because [Penn State], the team they have right now, can score a ton of points.”
“It’s all a process,” Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. “As a coaching staff we just try to make progress. We try to make sure our kids are getting better. We try to make sure they have what they need, at least put everything in front of them so they have a choice to be successful. That is what we are going to keep doing.
“We also want to make sure they are having fun and that is their choice also. That is the key for this team.”
It starts with the dynamic duo of David Taylor and Ed Ruth, both juniors next season, and senior-to-be Quentin Wright.
Taylor, the winner of the prestigious Hodge Trophy, cleaned up as a sophomore. After losing just one match as a rookie, that coming in the 2011 national final, he stormed through five opponents in St. Louis. Taylor had four pins and a technical fall in the 165-pound final. He will take a 69-1 career mark into 2012-13.
Ruth, the champion at 174 pounds, had two pins, a technical fall and a major. In the final, he destroyed Stanford senior Nick Amuchastegui 13-2. Ruth was also unbeaten as a sophomore, finishing 31-0.
Wright, who will be a senior, lost in overtime in the 184-pound final. In 2011, he was an NCAA champion and totaled just four losses as a junior.
Nico Megaludis shocked most everybody but himself by reaching the 125-pound final. As a freshman, he was 28-8 in the rugged Big Ten Conference. Another first-year starter, Dylan Alton, finished third after dropping an overtime decision in the 157-pound quarterfinal. Alton had 30 victories. A third freshman, 197-pound Morgan McIntosh, won an NCAA bout and will most certainly improve before the Lions take the mat for the 2012-13 campaign.
Andrew Alton qualified for the NCAA Championships as a freshman 141-pounder in 2010-11. He redshirted this season and is expected to fit in somewhere when PSU hits the mats again.
Sanderson is the conductor of what seems to be an unstoppable train.
“I can’t expect these guys to be me in anything,” said Sanderson, who won four individual NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal in 2004. “I just try and help them. As a coaching staff, coach [Casey] Cunningham, coach Cody [Sanderson], we just try to stay out of their way and make sure they are doing the big things. If [Ed] Ruth wants to color his hair green, you just say you had better back it up on the mat.”
“When you hear something from Cael Sanderson, you can’t challenge that,” said PSU senior 149-pounder Frank Molinaro, a four-time All-American and champion in 2012. “You’ve got to believe anything he tells you.”
It’s not like Penn State beat a bunch of also-rans. Three other squads -- Minnesota, Cornell and Iowa -- also hit the 100-point plateau in St. Louis. Next year the rest of the field will have to be even better.
“You score 100 points, you should be right in this thing,” said Cornell head coach Rob Koll, who must replace three All-Americans. “Somebody is going to have to score a lot more than 100 to beat [Penn State].”
J Robinson’s Golden Gophers again will be one of the top challengers. Four-time All-American Zach Sanders and three-time All-American Sonny Yohn are lost to graduation, but UM brings back 285-pound champion Tony Nelson, 149-pound finalist Dylan Ness and All-Americans Chris Dardanes, Logan Storley and Steinhaus. 133-pounder Nick Dardanes, who advanced to the quarterfinals, is also back. Both Dardanes, Ness and Storley were all freshmen in 2011-12.
Iowa must replace three-time All-American and two-time finalist Montell Marion. Tom Brands does, however, bring back two-time champion Matt McDonough, 2011 finalist Derek St. John, bronze medalist Tony Ramos and a fourth All-American in Ethen Lofthouse. Grant Gambrall, an All-American in 2011, returns for his senior campaign.
“We have to score 180,” said Brands, a three-time NCAA champ and 1996 Olympic gold medalist. “I don’t like being where we are right now. It’s going to take a concerted effort; 40 guys in your wrestling room; to be able to go out and battle with that kind of firepower. We don’t have that kind of firepower.”
A team most certainly to keep an eye on is Ohio State. With as many as seven freshmen starters in 2011-12, Tom Ryan’s Buckeyes were fifth in St. Louis. Logan Stieber knocked off 2011 champion Jordan Oliver in the 133-pound final with younger brother Hunter and Cam Tessari also earning All-America honors, along with 174-pounder Nick Heflin, who was fifth.
|Oh, the possibilities|
The field for 133 pounds was tough in 2011-12. Imagine this group in 2012-13. Stieber, Oliver, Ramos, Dardanes, Futrell, Colon, Carter, Schopp, Quiroga, Graf and Sentes. What if McDonough were to move up a weight class? Four of those wrestlers will be competing at the 2012 Olympic Trials in April.
Of course the biggest debate amongst mat-heads is the Dake-Taylor question. Could one go up? One drop a weight? It’s not quite Ali-Frazier but we can dream can’t we? Dake going for that elusive fourth title against the dynamic Taylor …the hype would rival any Hollywood summer blockbuster.Bringing Howe and Caldwell back into the mix could also provide some instant classics. Howe-Taylor? Howe-Ruth? Caldwell-Taylor? Caldwell-Howe?
Regardless of the script that plays out 2012-13 promises to be another fantastic season on the mat.
“We had a good squad and we will have a good squad next year,” Ryan said. “The experience these guys get as freshmen, that’s only going to make them better the next couple of years. I know these guys aren’t going to concede anything.”
Oklahoma State returns Oliver, now a three-time All-American, and 174-pounder Chris Perry, who lost just one match as a sophomore, that coming to Amuchastegui in a Friday night semifinal.
John Smith, another Olympic gold medalist who doesn’t take losing easy, hopes to regain the services of 285-pounder Alan Gelogaev, unbeaten as a junior until an injury sidelined him. The Russian was an All-American in 2010 as a 197-pounder but has not wrestled at nationals since. Three other starters return, but the Cowboys will have to make significant strides to be in the hunt.
Cornell will be without the services of champions Steve Bozak and Cam Simaz and 125-pound All-American Frank Perelli, all lost to graduation. Koll does return three-time champion Kyle Dake, who completed an undefeated season with an NCAA championship at 157 pounds. Mike Nevinger, seventh at 141 as a sophomore, returns, as does 165-pounder Marshall Peppelman. But, like the Cowboys, new faces in new places will be asked to make major contributions.
All four of Illinois’ All-Americans return – Jesse Delgado (125), Bernard Futrell (133), Conrad Polz (165) and Jordan Blanton (174). Two other NCAA qualifiers will also be back for head coach Jim Heffernon, who should expect another top-10 finish.
For the first time since 1995, Oregon State had more than two All-Americans. Two of those – Mike Mangrum (141) and Scott Sakaguchi (149) – return and five of Jim Zalesky’s eight NCAA qualifiers are also expected back, plus 285-pounder Chad Hanke. The Beavers were 10th in St. Louis and may be the West Coast’s top representative again in 2013.
One program, Wisconsin, will most likely return from a year of hibernation. The Badgers, 10th in 2011, saw three of its stars take redshirts during the 2011-12 campaign. In St. Louis at the 2012 Championships, UW totaled 7.5 points and finished in a tie with Army for 41st.
Three stars took Olympic redshirts in 2011-12 – Andrew Howe, a champion in 2010, will be back somewhere in the mix between 165 and 184; Tyler Graff, a two-time All-American at 133, and 184-pounder Travis Rutt, also an All-American in 2011.
At the end of the day, at least for now, it’s Penn State and everybody else.
“Our team is not the ordinary team,” Taylor said.
Added Ruth, “I am really going to try and keep the same routine because I want the same results.”