IX (9) Days Until Final X Preview – May 31: 61k MFS,...
Penn State is not conceding in 2015, but has a very bright future
By Mike Finn
The Penn State wrestling team made history Jan. 2, when the Nittany Lions became the first college team to win five consecutive Southern Scuffle team championships in Chattanooga, Tenn.
If the 2014-15 Nittany Lions can win a fifth straight NCAA team title this March in St. Louis, it would be even more history … and not just because the national stakes would be higher.
For if Penn State could top the team standings on March 21, it would speak wonders about how deep the talent level in the PSU wrestling room is, considering Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson (above with assistant Casey Cunningham) is without his two NCAA champs — David Taylor (165 pounds) and Ed Ruth (184) — and is redshirting two other returning All-Americans — senior Nico Megaludis (125) and sophomore Zain Retherford (141) — this season.
That is a big reason why the Nittany Lions are only ranked 13th in WIN’s latest Tournament Power Index Rankings that suggests that only three wrestlers on this year’s PSU team — Matt Brown (174), Morgan McIntosh (197) and either one of two heavyweights, Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich — could finish among the top eight in their weight class.
None of these wrestlers won individual championships at the Southern Scuffle — Brown, a two-time All-American, came the closest before losing to Nebraska’s top-ranked Robert Kokesh — but the senior as well as McIntosh and Gingrich (who both claimed third place in Chattanooga) were among nine place-winners for Sanderson.
“It’s a different team this year,” said Sanderson. “You have to score points where you can get them. We lost some matches but this will give us a chance to improve. We have a young team that is going to get better and build off their success.”
The 2014-15 Nittany Lions are not about to concede any top national honor despite the fact Penn State would be better on paper had Megaludis (a three-time AA and two-time national finalist) and Retherford (who finished fifth in 2014 as a true freshman) had not redshirted this winter.
In the absence of those All-Americans, junior Jordan Conaway is ranked ninth at 125 after claiming seventh place in Chattanooga, while redshirt freshman Kade Moss claimed fifth at 141 in this year’s Scuffle.
“The time is now,” Sanderson added. “Winning is what’s important now. If we can continue to improve over the next couple months, we feel that we can be in the hunt. We have to make progress and so does everyone else.”
But one can’t help but look how bright next year will be for Penn State considering three true freshmen were impressive in Chattanooga, especially Jason Nolf, who finished second — losing 7-4 — to second-ranked James Green of Nebraska in the 157-pound final in this year’s Scuffle.
“I need to pick it up. I could not get to my tie-ups. He was keeping his distance and I started to reach,” said Nolf, less than one year after claiming his third Pennsylvania state championship for Kittaning High School in Yatesboro, Pa. “There are a lot of great teammates and coaches who are helping me through this.”
During the Scuffle, Nolf and other true freshmen Bo Nickall (174) of Allen, Texas, and heavyweight Nick Nevills of Clovis, Calif., all competed unattached. Nevills finished sixth after reaching the semifinals and Nickall won a pair of bouts before losing in a tiebreaker to Wyoming’s Andy McCulley in the quarterfinals, where he suffered an injury.
“They did well,” said Sanderson, who was not able to coach the trio because they wrestled unattached. “I think all three of them will be in the mix next year, no question in my mind.”
But for now, Sanderson wants to focus on 2014-15 and the likes of senior Dylan Alton, a 2012 All-American (third), who has dealt with injuries the past two years and did not see any varsity action this winter until the Scuffle.
“It’s been rough but lately it’s gotten a lot better,” said Dylan, a 2012 Scuffle runner-up, who settled for fourth in this Scuffle at 157 pounds, where he helped his team’s effort by pinning two foes. “I’m not where I want to be right now. I have to work on my conditioning, moving my feet more and technique. I have some steps that I can take forward and plan on doing that.”
(Dylan and his brother, Andrew, the 2011 Schalles Award winner as the nation’s top pinner, both underwent should surgery prior to 2013-14. Injuries have not allowed Andrew to compete this season.)
“Dylan did pretty well considering it was his first competition of the year and this was a tough tournament to wrestle for the first time,” Sanderson said. “He did a nice job in getting back to being full-speed. The potential is there and that’s exciting.”
The same can be said about Penn State’s future. If not this March, definitely seasons to come.