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Penn State won its second straight title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
ST. LOUIS -- Penn State won its third-ever national title -- and its second in two years -- at the 2012 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Saturday night, with three of five finalists winning individual championships.
The Nittany Lions clinched the team title race during the medal round Saturday By the time the last title bout was wrestled, Cael Sanderson and Company had compiled 143 points ... 25.5 more than second-place Minnesota.
The three Penn State wrestlers who were crowned champs in the Gateway City: Frank Molinaro at 149 pounds, David Taylor at 165, and Ed Ruth at 174. It was the first title for all three, and especially sweet for Molinaro and Taylor, who suffered humiliating losses in the finals at the 2011 NCAAs.
When asked to compare his first team title to this year's, head coach Sanderson replied, "The first one's probably always going to be a little extra special. But I'm real happy for the guys. I think they wrestled great. They went out and did what they needed to do ... We had some incredible performances."
In the 149-pound title match, the top-seeded Frank Molinaro got a 4-1 win over No. 7 seed Dylan Ness of Minnesota. It was the fourth time the Penn State senior had beaten the Gopher freshman this season. Molinaro used last year's finals loss to Cornell's Kyle Dake as inspiration this year, saying in the post-match interview, "Last year, I got killed and went back and trained as hard as I could for a year straight. Took a lot of heat, a lot of criticism from that match, but all it did was motivate me ... I had a lot of shutouts this year. I dominated people. And I had a blast doing it." Molinaro completed his last year with a perfect 33-0 record, and ends his career as a four-time NCAA All-American.
David Taylor (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)At 165, top-seeded David Taylor capped his flawless 31-0 season with his first title, conducting a takedown clinic on No. 11 seed Brandon Hatchett of Lehigh, securing a 22-7 technical fall victory at 5:55. The sophomore from St. Paris, Ohio also earned Outstanding Wrestler honors for the tournament, and the Gorriaran Award for the most falls in the shortest amount of time (four in 8:46). With those four falls, Taylor seemed to be on his way to becoming only the ninth wrestler since 1928 to pin his way through the NCAAs ... but it was not to be. The last to do it was Oregon State heavyweight Howard Harris in 1980; among the others in this elite group are Bill Koll, Dan Hodge, and Dan Gable.
When asked how much he had improved this season, Taylor replied, "I think it took me until the first match of this tournament to realize the improvement I've made. This whole year I think I wrestled with a little bit of I don't even know how to describe it -- I just wanted the NCAA tournament to be here. I wanted to be on that stage and make up for last year."
Ed Ruth was the third Nittany Lion to win his first title, and leave St. Louis with a perfect 31-0 record. In a battle of undefeateds, the top-seeded sophomore earned a 13-2 major decision over third-seeded Stanford senior Nick Amuchastegui.
Ruth had injury defaulted to Amuchastegui in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAAs, and it's a matter that has weighed in the minds of many wrestling fans ... and the wrestler himself. At the post-finals press conference, Ruth was asked if this was on his mind: "Oh definitely. I think about it last year. I think about it this year. I'm like, wow, we are two completely different wrestlers compared from last year to this year. And that whole situation, I didn't really look at it too much. The only thing that made me look at it much was the fans, what the people were saying on the Internet. And it's just getting me a big drive just to prove them wrong."
Tony Nelson became the fifth Gopher to win a heavyweight title (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Second-place Minnesota tallied 117.5 points, with Tony Nelson taking the heavyweight crown from defending champ Zack Rey of Lehigh on a takedown with just seven seconds left in the match to win 4-1. Here's how the native of Cambridge, Minnesota described it: "We got in a good scramble there and he had my leg. Just knew it was time. Had to score there. Couldn't give up that takedown. And I was able to spin around and catch his other leg for two. Really exciting."
With the title, the second-seeded sophomore becomes the fifth Golden Gopher to win the heavyweight title, joining Leonard Levy, Verne Gagne, Brock Lesnar, and Cole Konrad.
Iowa came in third place with 107.5 team points. Of its three finalists, only one -- Matt McDonough -- left Scottrade Center with a title, his second in three finals appearances, having won in 2010 but lost in 2011. The top-seeded Hawkeye senior earned the 125-pound crown this year with a 4-1 win over No. 10 seed freshman Nico Megaludis of Penn State.
"Regardless of the weight, the sport of wrestling is a lifestyle like no other sport," the Marion, Iowa native said after Saturday night's win, the 100th of his collegiate career. "You have to live it, eat it, breathe it. Every aspect of your life has to include wrestling. And after my redshirt year, I realized what I wanted, and that was to be the very best, and I thought that would be going to 125 not because I'll get in the lineup, but because that's where I thought I would wrestle the best, I would be the most competitive, and I could improve myself the most."
Kyle Dake became the first wrestler to win three NCAA titles and three different weights (Photo/Larry Slater)Cornell came in fourth in the team title race with 102.5 points, and all three finalists claiming individual championships: Kyle Dake at 157, Steve Bosak at 184, and Cam Simaz at 197.
The top-seeded Dake won his third title in three years by beating No. 2 seed Derek St. John of Iowa, 4-1. The Big Red wrestler is the first to win three NCAA titles at three different weights, having won at 141 in 2010, then moving up to 149 last year.
"(It's a) really good feeling, doing something that no one's done before," said the 35-0 Dake. "And it's a tough match. (St. John) went hard just like any Iowa guy would ... We were both battling. And I think that all great wrestlers appreciate a good battle. And I know it's not the outcome that he wanted, but he's a great wrestler. And he showed a lot of fight."
No. 4 seed Bosak defeated defending champ Quentin Wright of Penn State, 4-2 SV, to win the 184-pound title. The two had grown up together in Centre County, Pennsylvania and trained together in high school, a subject that came up in post-match interviews. "We're friends. Great kid," said the Big Red wrestler. "But when it comes down to it, I was focusing on winning a national title no matter who it was. As far as I was concerned, it was a blank face I was going up against."
Individual Champions (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)The third Cornell champ of the evening was No. 1 seed Cam Simaz, who completed his college career by beating No. 2 seed Chris Honeycutt of Edinboro, 7-5, in the 197 finals ... after coming back from a 4-2 deficit in the second period. "I'll be the first to tell you that the plan wasn't to go out there and take him down, get a few escapes and start losing," said the senior. "Obviously that wasn't the game plan. But the game plan was to go out there wrestle hard for seven minutes. Hopefully outscore him. That's my game plan every single time."
In fifth place was Ohio State with 68.5 team points, and one individual champ, No. 2 seed Logan Stieber, who scored a 4-3 win over No. 1 seed -- and defending champ -- Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State in the 133-pound title match. What's next for the Buckeye freshman champ? A week off in Florida, then working on his goal to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in freestyle.
Another Big Ten school that could claim an individual champ was Michigan ... with Kellen Russell successfully defending his 141-pound title with a seesaw battle against fellow senior Montell Marion of Iowa, ending in sudden victory, 6-4 -- the third overtime match for the two conference rivals. "He's a great competitor, really good wrestler. And all of our matches are always tough," said the two-time Wolverine champ of Marion. "There were some takedowns it's not usually an easy takedown to score on, so his matches are always fun."
Team Standings (Top 10)
1. Penn State 143
2. Minnesota 117.5
3. Iowa 107.5
4. Cornell 102.5
5. Ohio State 68.5
6. Oklahoma State 66
7. Illinois 62
8. Lehigh 61
9. Northwestern 42.5
10. Oregon State 40.5
NWCA Awards and Honors
Gorriaran Award: Penn State's David Taylor (four pins in 8:46)
Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAAs: David Taylor
Coach of the Year: Minnesota's J Robinson
NCAA Season-Long Performance Awards
Most Tech Falls: Buffalo's Mark Lewandowski, Edinboro's Chris Honeycutt
Most Falls: Oregon State's R.J. Pena (20 pins)
Most Dominant Wrestler: David Taylor (513 points)
News & Notes
"It was absolutely terrible, but awesome at the same time," said Vinson of losing first round and winning seven straight. "That's the second best thing you can do other than winning, and I did it with dominance."