Even happier valley

DES MOINES, Iowa – Quentin Wright never saw Oklahoma State overtake Penn State in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday night.

The 197-pounder did watch as teammate Ed Ruth put the Nittany Lions back in front, then made sure that they were out of sight on their way to a third consecutive team title.

Ruth and Wright won individual titles while David Taylor, Nico Megaludis and Matt Brown finished second to help the Nittany Lions edge out Oklahoma State by four points for the team title. All 10 of the Nittany Lions starters scored points in the tournament.

“I’m really proud of these guys, I guess, for the effort and what they did,” coach Cael Sanderson said. “They went out there and they scored the most points. That’s what wins. It was a great tournament. I think Oklahoma State had a very good tournament. Made it a lot of fun.”

It looked like the fun might come to a premature ending. The finals schedule was altered to put Taylor’s highlight match with Kyle Dake of Cornell as the last bout of the evening. That meant that Brown’s 174-pound title match with Chris Perry of Oklahoma State was the first match.

Perry beat Brown 2-1 in the first set of tiebreakers to put the Cowboys up by a point in the team standings. Not that Wright saw it.

“I can’t watch the matches,” the four-time All-American from Bald Eagle Area said. “I get too emotionally involved, and I literally drain my energy watching other people because I’m twitching the whole time trying to wrestle with them.”

He did break his routine for the next match, however, and saw Ruth put the Nittany Lions in front again. Ruth, who finished the season with a 37-0 record and his second national title, scored three takedowns in the final 36 seconds. That flourish and a riding-time point gave him a 12-4 major decision over Lehigh’s Robert Hamlin, which resulted in a bonus point for Penn State.

“I wasn’t really sure that last takedown was for the major, but I just wanted to get it,” said Ruth, who is a junior.

Wright said Ruth’s heroics helped him get ready for his match at 197.

“It was inspiring to get that win with eight seconds remaining,” he said. “It’s huge for a teammate. It’s relaxing to watch Ed, let’s say that. He helped out a lot sitting there.”

Then, Wright helped Penn State out a lot. Despite winning a national title two years ago at 184, he was the second seed at 197 to Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore. Both wrestlers were undefeated and the hotly contested team race put even more pressure on Wright.

“Tough match, tough kid, tough opponent,” Sanderson said. “He did a fantastic job. That was a clutch match, obviously.”

Wright scored a takedown in the opening minute – the first Kilgore had given up all year – then added two more in the third period for an 8-6 victory. It also gave the Nittany Lions an insurmountable lead, which was important when Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver won the 149-pound title.

“Really, the team race is really important to me personally,” said Wright, who finished his senior season with a 36-0 record. “Winning too, but more importantly, the team race is important. I knew one of us had to take it upon our shoulders to get it and I thought why not me? Let’s go out there. Let’s win this. Let’s clinch the team race.”

It’s a good thing Wright did, because the Nittany Lions lost their final two bouts of the evening.

Megaludis and Jesse Delgado were tied at 1-1 in the third period when the Illinois wrestler cradled the Penn State sophomore for a takedown and three backpoints.

Taylor’s match, which pitted the defending champion against Cornell’s Dake – who was trying to become the first wrestler to win four NCAA titles at four different weights – was even closer.

Taylor got the opening takedown against Dake, but the Cornell wrestler escaped and got a takedown of his own for a 3-2 lead after one period. Dake escaped in the second to make it 4-2, then rode Taylor for most of the third period to build a riding-time advantage of more than a minute. That proved to be the difference, as Taylor escaped and got a stalling point but lost 5-4.

“He’s one of the best wrestlers of all time and I’ve got to give him credit for being able to get the takedown,” Dake said of Taylor. “I just fought hard, got right out, off bottom and just stayed on him.”

The fact that Taylor, Megaludis and Brown came up short in the finals – as well as the inability of the other Nittany Lions to earn All-American honors – left Sanderson with a bit of a hollow feeling despite the team title.

“It’s my job to make sure they’re ready – each one, each individual,” he said. “I’m not sure I did a very good job. That’s the hard part as a coach, because you’re always (thinking) ‘Man, we just won the nationals, but we had guys that didn’t reach their goal.'”