Lions ready to seek fourth title

UNIVERSITY PARK – Attention all Division I wrestlers: The 2013-14 wrestling season is right around the corner and the Penn State Nittany Lions are ready to roar as they pursue their fourth straight NCAA championship.

Despite losing four-time All-American Quentin Wright along with several others, the Lions’ den is anything but empty as they prepare for the upcoming campaign.

“It is good to be getting started here,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson began. “I think we have a lot of tough, talented kids and we’ll find out with a couple of them this weekend and we’ll find out more about them at the Binghamton Open. These guys are as ready to go as any team we have ever had since I have been here. They have the potential of being a great team and I think you can see that just by who we have returning along with some of the new faces we have coming up.

“We are really excited about the potential of these guys this season.”

In addition to wrestling most of their dual meets at Rec Hall, the Lions will also open the doors at the Bryce Jordan Center for a meet with the Pitt Panthers. With most of the Rec Hall duals already sold out, that meet with the Panthers at the BJC will give more fans an opportunity to see the Lions in action.

“The BJC brings to the program what we can do, not only for our program, but even more for wrestling in the state of Pennsylvania,” Sanderson said. “Can we sell out the BJC? I think we can. I think it will be more of a statement in general even more than just for Penn State because you will have Pitt and Penn State going at it.

“Right now, Iowa holds the record for the largest crowd when they wrestled Iowa State and that was for the whole state of Iowa. They take some pride in that and I think that Pennsylvania can do the same thing,” he said. “I just hope the Penn State community and the whole wrestling community gets behind the match. It is not an easy thing to get tickets for the matches in Rec Hall so it is an opportunity to see David Taylor and Ed Ruth, not just two Penn State greats but college wrestling greats.”

When asked if he was satisfied with where the team is at this point, Sanderson was quick to offer the usual response from a coach’s viewpoint.

“I don’t think any coach or athlete is ever going to be satisfied,” Sanderson said. “You always want to make progress and there are always areas in which you can improve. That is the mentality that I was taught by my dad when I was growing up. He believed you should never be satisfied to be as good as you are and that is the same mindset we want our guys to have. Regardless of who it is that is the challenge we present to our guys. That is why practice is fun every day because there are so many ways in which you can improve both mentally and technically. There is always something you can contribute to the program to make it better.”

If you are looking for a probable starting lineup for the Lions, keep looking. As usual, Sanderson in his PennDOT version of a detour – he doesn’t make a habit of disclosing that type of information.

However, there are four weights that seem to be pretty much settled and those would be 125 with Nico Megaludis, David Taylor at 165, Matt Brown at 174 and Ed Ruth at 184. Ruth is a two-time defending NCAA champion, while Taylor, Megaludis and Brown all finished second.

Morgan McIntosh returns at 197 after serving a redshirt year and Jon Gingrich (Bald Eagle Area) and Jimmy Lawson will battle it out at 285 as they did for much of last season.

With those weight classes pretty much defined, that leaves 133, 141, 149 and 157 to be determined. Normally you might expect to find Andrew Alton and twin brother Dylan at 149 and 157 respectively, but both Andrew and Dylan had shoulder surgery and are still recuperating with an outside chance of returning sometime in December, but more likely January or even February.

Until the Altons return to the mix, guys battling for 149 include Seth Beitz (Juniata), James English, Luke Frey (Montoursville) and Kyle Moran.

At 157, you might find freshmen Garrett Hammond or Cody Law alongside older wrestlers like James Vollrath and Seth Beitz.

Just as the absence of the Altons leaves 149 and 157 wide open, a multitude of wrestlers is in the fold to battle for the 133 and 141 weight classes.

The starter there could be Zack Beitz (Juniata, 141), Jordan Conaway, Jimmy Gulibon, Nate Morgan, Zain Retherford and Michael Waters.

As for 141, Sanderson indicated that he will let the wrestlers determine who wins that spot.

“We are very deep at that weight class,” Sanderson said. “We are three or four guys deep so we’ll let them wrestle and figure out who the right guy is for that position. We don’t look at 149 as a weight class where we feel we won’t be competitive at and we feel that we will be very strong at 141.”

With some talk about the possibility of redshirting Megaludis floating around, Sanderson and his assistant coaches felt it wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the team at the present time.

“We talked about that and Nico has talked about that, but that is not the plan right now,” Sanderson said. “We want to put our best team out there most of the time based on the individuals we have and the team we are facing. There are some really good teams out there so this year will be a very competitive year and I think we want Nico in our lineup.”

Can Ed Ruth can get any better?

“He can always get better and he will have to get better if he wants to become an Olympic champion,” Sanderson said. “He is going to have to do things a little differently. His technique is going to have to improve in some areas and he found that out this past summer. But he is definitely a guy who is nothing short of amazing when you look at what he has done so far in his three years.”

As for who will redshirt and who will not, Sanderson left that wide open.

“We aren’t set on anything yet at this point,” he said. “We are most likely going to wrestle our best team this year. (Zack) Beitz had a really good redshirt year last year and he is doing very well. He is one of those kids we are really excited about. He is just a tough hard-nosed kid who works real hard and he is going to be very good. Nate Morgan tore his knee up last year in his first match last year, but he is back so we have some very good kids in that weight class.”

The Lions officially begin their dual meet season Nov. 16 when they visit Rider for a dual meet before tangling with Lehigh the following day.

Possibly needing an open tournament in the past to help determine the starting lineup, the Lions will have that this time around when they participate in the Binghamton Open Nov. 10, just in time for the duals with Rider and Lehigh.

“We really haven’t been able to get an open in the past, but this year we obviously have one,” Sanderson said. “We want to see our guys competing against outside competition because the process of setting a lineup always continues. We try to get our best team ready for March, but at the same time, we have to decide early who is going to wrestle. We’ll play around with that because we have some solid flexibility with some depths at those weights.”