ST. LOUIS - Cael Sanderson went 159-0 during his college wrestling career and won an Olympic gold medal, but even he is impressed by what his Penn State squad is doing.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah," the Nittany Lions coach said. "I mean, when you have a guy that really wants to be successful and he'll do anything you ask him to do and they take advantage of all the opportunities they have in front of them, they go out there and get after it, you can't do any more than just sit back and smile and just be grateful."
Penn State had plenty to be grateful for on Saturday night. Frank Molinaro, David Taylor and Ed Ruth claimed individual crowns at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships and the Nittany Lions won their second consecutive national title. Nico Megaludis and Quentin Wright each finished second while Dylan Alton placed third.
Sentinel photo by TAMI KNOPSNYDER
Penn State's Nico Megaludis wrestles Iowaás Matt McDonough in the 125-pound final at the NCAA Wrestling Championship in St. Louis Sunday.
"Not everybody quite reached their goals," Sanderson said. "And, as a coach, your heart kind of goes more with them because you kind of expect to win. But I'm really happy for the guys. We had some incredible performances."
None more incredible than that by Taylor. The 165-pound redshirt sophomore capped a 37-0 season by scoring a 22-7 technical fall over Lehigh's Brandon Hatchett in the finals. His other four victories in the tournament came by way of fall, and Taylor might have needed an extra suitcase for all of the awards he picked up in Missouri. He was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler, won the NCAA's new most dominant wrestler award for the season and had the tournament's most falls in the least amount of time.
"I'm not a history buff in any way, but I don't know if there's ever been a more dominant performance at the NCAA tournament than what we just saw right there," Sanderson said. "Four pins and a tech fall in the finals. Just sitting back like everybody else and just saying 'Wow.' "
Ruth was almost as impressive at 174 pounds. He had two pins, two major decisions and a technical fall in the tournament and finished the season 36-0. The redshirt sophomore said that he fed off of his teammates' success, especially in his 13-2 championship-round victory over Stanford's Nick Amuchastegui.
"Watching them win the way they did, seeing how they put their blood, sweat and tears into it, it's just like it really just gets the momentum going and it's just like you can really feed off the last guy who just wrestled before you," he said.
"And seeing David go out there and getting the tech, I just really fed off that. Wow, he did a great job. And I wanted to emulate that."
Molinaro, who beat Minnesota's Dylan Ness 4-1 for the 149-pound title and finished his senior season 38-0, said that the Penn State team is very close-knit.
"We've got 35 guys on our team and we've got 35 guys in St. Louis right now," Molinaro said. "They drove 780 miles, some of them, to get here. So this team is real special."
The team certainly was special. In addition to the three champions, Penn State also had Megaludis, a freshman, and Wright, a redshirt junior, in the finals. Molinaro and heavyweight Cameron Wade will be the only losses from this year's team, sparking talk of a dynasty for the Nittany Lions.
But Sanderson wasn't about to make any predictions for future success.
"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing, try to make progress every day and whatever happens after that, so be it," he said.
Wright's loss came to a foe familiar to him and District 6 fans. Cornell's Steve Bosak, a State College grad, beat his former workout partner, Wright, who went to Bald Eagle Area, 4-2 in overtime for the 184-pound championship.
"We're friends," Bosak said. "Great kid. 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."
Megaludis lost 4-1 to Iowa's Matt McDonough in the 125-pound final.
Sanderson said the loss will motivate Megaludis, who entered the tournament as the No. 10 seed.
"I'm very proud of him to make the NCAA finals as a true freshman," Sanderson said. "That's an extraordinary accomplishment, something that he can be real proud of and really build upon. He hates losing as much as anyone I've seen and he won't rest."