PHILADELPHIA - For the first time since 1953, you can call the Penn State Nittany Lion wrestling team National Champions!
Warding off the efforts of Cornell and Iowa for three days, the Lions survived a few glitches and bumps in the road to win the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championship crown by a 107.5-93.5 margin over Cornell. Defending champion Iowa finished third with 86.5 points.
"Wrestling is a sport in that as far as being a winner is concerned, you just have to want it," PSU coach Cael Sanderson said. "When you see the look in the eyes of the kids you can usually tell who is going to win it before they go out there and this week, we liked the look we saw in their eyes."
Sentinel photo by TAMI KNOPSNYDER
Quentin Wright, a Bald Eagle Area product who won the NCAA championship at 184 pounds, lifts the team trophy won by Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ first national team title since 1953.
After going through some growing pains in Friday's third session of the NCAA Wrestling Championships, the Lions turned it up a notch to vault themselves into first place in the team race with an insurmountable 103.5-89.5 lead over Cornell heading into Saturday night's championship finals.
"It settled in right away when we knew we had it and now I am just getting to realize what just happened. We're National Champs and that is something to be real happy about. These guys are young, but they are also talented and aggressive. I'm really, really proud of these guys."
In the finals, the Lions went 1-for-3 as Quentin Wright defeated his nemesis from Lehigh, Robert Hamlin, 5-2 to become a two-time All-American with his first national title.
"My gosh I want to cry," Wright said. "Because I've been dreaming about it a lot, it's what I've been thinking about since I was in elementary (school) and going to Ken Chertow's just learning wrestling. He immortalized the people who won nationals up on his board and I'm one of them now."
Sanderson was quick to point out the warrior he has in Wright.
"He just shows you that he never gives up," Sanderson said. "If you believe in yourself and you're extremely talented, you can be a national champion. A wrestling match is about choosing to win and going out there and doing it."
As for his win over Hamlin, a wrestler who had defeated Wright earlier in the season, he felt it all came down to preparation and execution.
"I wrestled smart," Wright said. "I knew he was going to come after me the whole time and I just had to be tough. I had all day to mentally prepare and get ready for that match. It took a lot because he's a tough opponent and I knew I had to get after him."
Lions who came up one win short of a gold medal were Frank Molinaro at 149 and David Taylor at 157.
Molinaro became the first casualty for the Lions when he was dominated by Kyle Dake of Cornell, Dake winning his second NCAA title with an easy 8-1 decision. So dominant was Dake that he racked up 6:18 of time advantage in the 7-minute match.
Although Molinaro didn't come up with a national title, he feels he left everything on the mat.
"From my sophomore year on I have no regrets," he said. "My freshman year I didn't work that hard and as a result, I didn't reach my potential that year. I feel that I did everything right, I worked hard every single day in practice, tried to be a leader and I have nothing to be ashamed of."
Then came the crusher for the Lions when previously unbeaten redshirt freshman David Taylor lost for the first time all season when he was pinned by former Penn State and current Arizona State wrestler Bubba Jenkins in 4:14.
After a scoreless first period, Taylor escaped to begin the second. However, seconds later, Taylor, leading 1-0, shot in on the legs of Jenkins, and when Jenkins countered, he locked up a tight cradle to pick up the fall.
As for wrapping up the title before the championship final round began, Sanderson said it made it a little easier for everyone involved.
"I think our guys today (Andrew Long and Ed Ruth) did a good job to make it easy for our guys in the finals," he said. "With the title already wrapped up, they could just focus on going out there and chasing their dream (of being a national champion)."
Andrew Long got the Lions started in the medal matches when he decked Mike Grey of Cornell in 4:59 in the consolation semifinals. In his final bout for third place, Long repeated a verdict from the earlier in the tournament when he pinned Scotti Sentes of Central Michigan. This time it was Long by a 7-5 score.
"It's something I have never had before, so that's a big experience for me, being able to share the emotions with all those guys and the guys who help us cut weight," Long said. "It's not all about who you see out on the mat. It's the coaches, the parents, the families, the friends, everybody behind the scenes as well. It's good to bring something back to them as well. I contributed and it's just the best feeling right now."
After defaulting out of the championship bracket in the quarterfinal round, Ed Ruth came back to get to the medal round and the redshirt freshman made the most of the opportunity.
After winning a pair of consolation bouts on Friday, Ruth started his third day of the tournament in easy fashion as he toyed with Virginia's Christopher Heinrich for a 7-2 win. On the heels of the victory over Heinrich, Ruth dominated Cornell's Mack Lewnes for a 6-2 win and third place in the tournament.
"We didn't know if he (Ruth) would be able to come back and wrestle," Sanderson said. "As it turned out, it was just something in his knee that locked up and it just took a little while to get it unlocked. He is a tough kid who took third at a very tough weight class and that was big for us."
As for Ruth, clinching the tournament title meant a lot to him.
"It's an honor, it's a big honor to do something like that," Ruth said. "I was thinking about the knee, I was thinking about the soreness in my shoulder, thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I think of all the things that go right, just thinking to myself, nothing is going to stop me. I'm not going to take the easy way out. I was going through the whole match period by period and making sure I stayed on him and dominated the match."
As for the remainder of the Lions' 8-man contingent in the tournament, the only senior of the eight, Brad Pataky, went fell by the wayside in the second round of consolations while true freshman Andrew Alton and junior Cameron Wade both made it to the round of 12, but both lost one win short of becoming an All-American.