Saturday evening marked the Nittany Lions fourth straight NCAA championship title, a rare accomplishment in college wrestling history. Along with the team title came the much-anticipated individual titles for seniors Ed Ruth and David Taylor.
The three-day event kicked off Thursday afternoon in Oklahoma City, Okla. Penn State began with ten wrestlers making their debut in each of the ten weight classes.
The boys breezed through the first rounds; Jimmy Gulibon, 133, was the only one to lose his first match, which led him to the consolation bracket. He earned crucial team points and fought his way through the bracket to finish in seventh place.
The following rounds proved a tough test for a few more Nittany Lions. The surprise 149-pounder, James English provided an exciting show in round one where he upset No. 12 Dylan Cottrell. He then fell to Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis in the second round; Tsirtsis went on to claim the 149 title. English continued to amaze fans as he wrestled through his wrestlebacks and earned seventh place.
Dylan Alton had a strong win in the first round that led him to face No. 4 Ian Miller of Kent State. The 4-1 loss dropped him out of the race to the championship. He won a key dual for the team score in the consolation round, but didn’t end up placing.
Heavyweight, Jon Gingrich fell to No. 3 Adam Chaflant in the second round. He couldn’t quite find a rhythm in his consolation match, lost again, and did not place. Gingrich proved himself this year in place of Jimmy Lawson and had an overall outstanding season.
Matt Brown earned Penn State extra points in his opening round with a major decision and clinched another win in the second round. The quarterfinals proved to be his toughest test against season long rival, Iowa’s Mike Evans. The match went into sudden victory where Brown couldn’t hold Evans from escaping for the winning point. He went on to win one of his two wrestlebacks and placed fifth.
An unexpected blow to the team, perhaps the most surprising loss for Penn State was Morgan McIntosh in the quarterfinals. After a dominating first match, No. 14 Chris Penny upset No. 3 McIntosh in the second round. McIntosh did his job in the consolation matches to get the team as many points as he could. He finished in seventh place.
Moving on to the semifinals, Penn State sent in their top four seeded wrestlers: Nico Megaludis, Zain Retherford, David Taylor, and Ed Ruth. Each of the four ranks in the top five of their weight class and entered the tournament with impressive season records. The team scores before the semifinals had Penn State in the lead with Minnesota hot on their tail in second.
The session didn’t start off as planned when Megaludis lost to No. 2 Nahshon Garrett. Penn State fans cringed when Megaludis took one last shot, but failed to close the takedown as Garrett yanked himself out of bounds. The crowd wanted a call for stalling, thinking Megaludis could’ve finished before Garrett crawled out of bounds. Megaludis expectedly finished third after his hopes of first slipped through his fingers.
Still a bit shocked from the 125 match, fans cheered on true freshman Zain Retherford as he faced No. 2 Logan Stieber. Retherford upset Stieber in the beginning of the season and Stieber had his revenge when he defeated Retherford at the Big Ten Championships. They met once again. Flashbacks to the Retherford vs. Stieber Big Ten match ensued from the start. Stieber learned his lesson the first time he saw Retherford and refused to deal with another loss. Retherford went down, 7-3 and ended up with fifth place after the consolation matches.
Ed Ruth and David Taylor were the last two standing going into the finals. The four-peat rested on their shoulders; with a team score of 101.5 Penn State trailed behind Minnesota by three and a half points. Minnesota also had two wrestlers competing in the finals- the Gophers needed to lose one of their two matches in order for PSU to make history.
Ed Ruth’s match was first. Up to this point of the tournament, Ruth succeeded with a pin, tech fall and a major decision in three of his five matchups. He showcased his dominating form with multiple takedowns and continued his momentum in the final match. He faced Gabe Dean of Cornell, who was responsible for Ruth’s one and only loss this season. Ruth started the match with a takedown and kept control over Dean for the rest of the match including a ride out in the second period and two escapes.
One individual title clinched put the team score above Minnesota. Both Gophers ended up losing their championship matches, giving Penn State their fourth NCAA title before David Taylor even set foot on the mat.
With three pins and one major decision under his belt, Taylor jogged into the spotlight ready to win one last matchup as Nittany Lion. The closing match of the tournament, the closing match of his college career, and the most anticipated match of the year ensued.
Taylor faced Cornell’s No. 2 Tyler Caldwell. He began with an early takedown and then worked a riding time in the first. He chose down an escaped in the second then shot again and succeeded with another takedown. Taylor shutdown Caldwell, he didn’t allow him to score one point as he became the most decorated wrestler in Penn State history and ended his perfect season 34-0.
Penn State is one of three teams to ever win four straight NCAA wrestling titles. The Ruth and Taylor duo left an everlasting mark on the wrestling team, both have faith the legacy will continue under Coach Sanderson.
David Taylor summed up the experience in a few words, “It’s just pretty awesome, I can’t say much more than that.”