How Penn State Wrestling Can Win a Fourth Straight Title
While the Penn State wrestling team just finished their 2012-2013 season, it’s never too early to think about next year, and while Cael Sanderson said it doesn’t get easier every year, next year just might.
Penn State is only losing two of its 10 starters — Bryan Pearsall at 141 and Quentin Wright at 197. Pearsall was one of the weaker weight classes for Penn State this year, but next year the third overall recruit, PA Wrestler of the Year and two-time state champion, Zain Retherford, will be attending Penn State.
Wright, a four-time All-American and two-time National Champion, will have a replacement too. Morgan McIntosh, who was an NCAA qualifier his freshman year and redshirted this past season, was the nation’s top overall wrestling wrestling recruit in 2010. With seven of the top 10 ranked wrestlers at 197 graduating, McIntosh will likely make an impressive impact early.
Besides the incoming wrestlers, what many call “murderers row, will be returning: David Taylor at 165, Matt Brown at 174 and Ed Ruth at 184. Additionally, Nico Megaludis will seek his first National title after two consecutive second place finishes at 125.
There’s lots of room for improvement, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. While neither Andrew or Dylan Alton placed at the NCAA Championship (and had rather subpar seasons after a one month suspension), Dylan had a third place finish at last year’s NCAAs. In Andrew’s first season, he defeated current No. 3 Cole Von Ohlen of Air Force twice. Although the Altons — both sophomores — wrestled below expectations, there’s no reason to worry about their future careers. At the 149 weight class, the top five wrestlers will not be returning, leaving lots of room for Andrew Alton to succeed.
The two weight classes that bring up the most questions for Penn State are 133 and heavyweight.
The Big Ten dominates the top rankings of the 133 weight class, and only four of the top 20 wrestlers are seniors. In No. 11 Jordan Conaway’s first season, he finished with a 19-10 record. Conaway had big wins such as a 10-8 sudden victory decision over current No. 3 Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. But Conaway also had disappointing moments such as losing to unranked Vinnie Dellafave of Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Dellafave 6-1 earlier in the season and ending his NCAA tournament with a 14-4 major decision to No. 8 freshman Cody Brewer of Oklahoma.
No. 12 Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich battled at the heavyweight position all season. Before Gingrich was sidelined with an unspecified illness, he defeated current No. 11 Mike McClure of Michigan State 5-3. Lawson lost to No. 13 Adam Chalfant of Indiana 8-4 in the Big Ten tournament and was then pinned in sudden victory by McClure giving him an 8th place finish at Big Tens.
The heavyweight situation will likely not be something that will be resolved any time soon. In the past, Sanderson has had the two wrestle each other for the spot with Gingrich winning the spot first before becoming sick and being replaced by Lawson.
Minnesota will be Penn State’s toughest competitor next season. With seven of their wrestlers ranked in the top 10 of their weight class, Penn State will have to pick things up at some of their under-performing weight classes. Despite Conaway and Lawson’s short-lived post-seasons, wrestlers often need that first experience in order to see the best opponents that they might see all season. These experiences often give wrestlers a new motivation for the next season to improve and be their best.
Penn State won’t be able to rely on their elite wrestlers, who they know will make it to the finals next year. Bonus points and actually having their other wrestlers place besides in the finals will be essential to winning their fourth consecutive title.