Penn State completes final-session comeback to earn fourth title in a row
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Prior to Saturday night's finals, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson felt pretty good about having the weight of a team title on the backs of his two senior stars.
They both delivered.
NC State's Nick Gwiazdowski and Oklahoma State's Alex Dieringer certainly helped the cause as well.
The first of two Penn State seniors, Ed Ruth, beat Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock in the 184-pound final. It put the Nittany Lions in front by 1.5 points.
The finals started at 174 pounds and finished with 165 pounds.
When Ruth's teammate, fellow senior David Taylor, took the mat, it was academic -- Penn State had its fourth consecutive NCAA championship in the books. Taylor fashioned the final tally, beating Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell 6-0 in the night's final match at 165 pounds.
"People don't understand how difficult it is when you walk off this stage when you lose and how much better it feels when you win," Taylor said.
Taylor gave credit to senior teammate James English, a 149-pounder who finished his career as an All-American, one of seven for PSU, who finished with 109.5 points.
Ruth finished his career with a methodical 7-2 win against Maryland senior Jimmy Sheptock (32-1) in the 184-pound final. There was very little drama as he scored a pair of first period takedowns and registered 3:26 of riding time. He senior finishes 34-1 in 2013-14 and 136-3 during four years.
"I love David," said Ruth following his win Saturday night. "I mean, like he's a respected wrestler. I'd like to say the same for myself. It's like being able to wrestle in a time as him, it's like big. It's like people who can say they can wrestle during the time of Brett Metcalf and Jordan Burroughs and I could say I wrestled in the time of David Taylor, Andrew Howe, Chris Perry, Kyle Dake.
"Just a big honor."
Taylor finished a perfect 34-0 campaign and a 134-3 career with a workman-like victory. Taylor's final collegiate match included a pair of slick ankle picks and riding time; it was Taylor's second title and fourth trip to the NCAA finals.
Taylor and Ruth finished their careers a combined 270-6.
"We have an amazing staff," Sanderson said. "I just try and stay out of their way."
When asked about losing Taylor and Ruth, Sanderson said, "We knew this day would come and it's something we have to celebrate."
Moving the 165-pound final to the end of the docket meant the evening opened with a battle between rival schools Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and a rematch of a wild Big 12 Conference final.
Oklahoma State senior Chris Perry (30-1) proved he was better than Oklahoma's Andrew Howe on this night, scoring a second-period takedown and adding 1:01 of riding time in a 4-0 victory. It was Perry's second win against the 2010 champion in two weeks and second consecutive title.
"I told everybody I was going to set the tone this match," Perry said. "I told them I would make adjustments from the last time I wrestled him, and I did. I hand fought him a little more last time. This time I knew he thought I was going to not shoot on him, and I wanted to let him know right off the whistle I'm coming for you. Like coach said before I ran out of the tunnel, go out there and set the tone and let him know you're here to go."
Howe (28-2) was a three-time finalist and finishes his career 120-10.
Gwiazdowski put a major damper on Minnesota's championship hopes when he scored two third-period takedowns to beat Nelson, who was wrestling for his third title. The win by Gwiazdowski, a Wolfpack sophomore, kept Penn State in the lead by 1.5 points and brought the Nittany Lions fans to their feet.
Ness' high-flying style did not translate against Dieringer, who finishes his sophomore season at 32-1. He is now 67-7 for his career.
"Once I got that near fall, I was up 5-0 I think, I knew I had it locked because I know how to wrestle smart when it comes to a guy like that," said Dieringer, who led early and went on to win 13-4. "I've wrestled him many times before and his shots aren't easy to stop.
He shoots low ankles. That's what he tries, sometimes doubles, but he just plain crashes right to them. I knew he was coming."
Dieringer's win took all the pressure off Taylor.
Ohio State junior Logan Stieber dominated Virginia Tech's Devin Carter 10-1 in the 141-pound final. Stieber, now a three-time champion, finishes 30-1 and takes a 90-3 into his fourth season where he will try and become the fourth four-time NCAA champion.
Stieber was sharp from the outset and never challenged by Carter (18-1), who was supposed to be out for the season due to injury, but was given the clearance only a week before the conference qualifiers.
"Yeah, I'm ready for No. 4," Stieber said. "But you know how I'll treat No. 4? Training wise, like I trained No. 1, 2, and 3. I'm always calm. I always try to be relaxed. So my coach will have me ready and I'll be ready to go once next season comes around."
Illinois junior Jesse Delgado (30-1) won his second title, showing some impressive defensive skills in beating Cornell sophomore Nahshon Garrett (34-2) 4-2 in the 125-pound final. Twice Delgado held off cat-quick Garrett double-leg shots -- both went to video review and both were overturned. A third review due to similar twister-like scrambles in the first period provided similar results. The decisive points came late in the second period when he secured a takedown immediately after an escape.
Both of Garrett's losses in 2013-14 came to Delgado.
Iowa senior Tony Ramos won another tough match in the finals, beating Wisconsin senior Tyler Graff in an overtime tiebreaker at 133 pounds. A pre-match stare-down lasted 30 seconds and Ramos (32-2), after getting ridden out in a first 30-second tiebreaker, secured two back points to win 3-1.
Two freshmen -- J'Den Cox and Jason Tsirtsis -- won titles on Saturday night.
Cox (38-2) grabbed, pushed and kept Ohio State senior Nick Heflin on the defensive for seven minutes and won 2-1 on a pair of stalling calls. Heflin (28-2) locked up a bear-hug in the final 10 seconds and tried to toss the Tiger freshman from Columbia, Mo., but was unable to finish.
Tsirtsis (32-3), a first-year starter for Northwestern who was seeded fifth, scored a takedown in overtime to beat Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig in the 149-pound final.
Big Ten heavy
The powerful Big Ten Conference claimed 34 of the 80 All-America spots this season. The four-team Big 12 was second with 11, with the EIWA (10), ACC (9), MAC (8), EWL (3), SoCon (2), Pac 12 (2), and West Region (1) each claiming at least one top-eight placer.
Ten Big Ten wrestlers competed in the finals; five from the Big 12.
Scots and Hawks
Lehigh and Edinboro, both located in Pennsylvania, always seem to play a role in March. Each put three in the top six this week. All six return.
Two Lehigh freshmen, Darian Cruz and Mitch Minotti, joined sophomore Mason Beckman inside the top eight. Another rookie, Elliot Riddick, was one win away from All-America status.
Cruz, from Allentown, Pa., entered the week unseeded, but worked his way to a seventh-place medal. Cruz lost to Penn State's Nico Megaludis in the first round, but won four in a row in wrestlebacks. After a loss to Dance, the Mountain Hawk beat Iowa State's Earl Hall for seventh.
"I'm really proud of them … a great group to work with," Lehigh boss Pat Santoro said. "From where they came to where we finished, we came a long way. We circle [March] because we want to perform well here."
"Coach Pat knows what he is doing," said Cruz, one of nine qualifiers for Lehigh. "It really doesn't matter how things happen early in the season. I don't feel like I beat any good kids all year, nobody in the top twenty. Everybody was joking that I picked a good time to start beating people.
"The bottom line, though, is that I had fun. I can't wait for next year already."
Beckman (28-6), from Greenville, Pa., was seeded sixth and finished sixth after a loss to Minnesota's David Thorn on Saturday. Like Beckman, Minotti, a rookie from Easton, Pa., was sixth.
For Edinboro, A.J. Schopp and Mitchell Port were top eight as expected, with 149-pounder David Habat taking fourth. Vic Avery, a sophomore, beat fifth-seeded Ethan Lofthouse in the first round.
"It's hard to explain," said Schopp, a native of Tyrone, Pa., who finished fourth at 133 pounds. "People always ask 'what is it about Edinboro?' It's the coaches, the mindset, the area … the coaches really get us ready for March and I think a lot of Pennsylvania kids approach it the same way. This is when it counts, when it's time to wrestle your best.
"It's hard to compete with the bigger programs, but we are really close. We showed that this week. It would be nice to get a team trophy for a little small school in Pennsylvania."
Port, who was third, and Schopp combined to win 67 of 71 matches. Both will be seniors in 2014-15.
The Fighting Scots, with seven qualifiers, finished a program-best fifth in the team race, besting two sixth-place showings. Lehigh was 18th.
Virginia Tech followed up its 10th-place showing in 2013 with another top-10 effort this week, finishing a program-best eighth. The Hokies' Joey Dance, a freshman from Christiansburg, Va., entered the week as the 16 seed at 125 pounds. After losing in the second round Thursday night to finalist Jesse Delgado of Illinois, Dance (29-10) won five consecutive matches before falling to Megaludis in the third-place bout.
Chris Penny, the 14th seed at 197 pounds, beat Penn State's third-seeded Morgan McIntosh on Thursday night and advanced to the semifinals where he was pinned by Iowa State's Kyven Gadson. Penny (28-14), a senior from Virginia Beach, Va., eventually finished sixth.
Devils and Diplomats
Duke's Conner Hartman, who finished fifth at 197 pounds, is the Blue Devils' second All-American, joining former heavyweight Konrad Dudziak, who was top-eight in 2009 and 2010. Hartman, a sophomore from Port Orchard, Wash., finishes 28-11.
Franklin & Marshall 141-pounder Rick Durso, a junior from Broomall, Pa., won 37 of 43 matches this season and was eighth in Oklahoma City. He is the Diplomats' first All-American since 1981.