Taylor, Dake matches highlight Final X

UNIVERSITY PARK — The last time wrestling fans saw David Taylor in Rec Hall, it was a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moment.

In his final home dual meet for the Penn State wrestling team on Feb. 23, 2014, he pinned his Clarion opponent in 11 seconds.

Four years later, Taylor will get another chance to entertain what he termed “best wrestling fan base in the country” as he wrestles tonight in USA Wrestling’s Final X.

“This is my home. I spent four years of my life wrestling in this venue. After the last time I wrestled here, in 2014, I didn’t think I’d ever wrestle here again,” Taylor said on Friday in Rec Hall. Taylor was a four-time NCAA finalist and two-time champion and Hodge Trophy winner for the Nittany Lions.

Final X is the final stage of qualifying for the men’s and women’s United States Freestyle World Teams that will compete Oct. 20-28 in Budapest, Hungary. Final X State College is the second of three venues to host the final series of best-of-three matches to determine world team members.

Last Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska, team members were decided at 57, 70, 74 and 97 kilograms for the men and 55, 59 and 68 kilograms for the women.

Starting at 6 tonight, men’s finalists will be determined at 65, 79 and 86 kilograms and at 62, 72 and 76 kilograms for the women.

Next Saturday at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, men’s team members will be determined at 61, 92 and 125 kilograms and 50, 53, 57 and 65 kilograms for women.

Tonight’s matchups include:

¯ Series One: Men’s 65 kg, Joey McKenna vs. Logan Stieber

¯ Series Two: Women’s 62 kg, Kayla Miracle vs. Mallory Velte

¯ Series Three: Women’s 72 kg, Erin Clodgo vs. Rachel Watters

¯ Series Four: Men’s 79 kg, Kyle Dake vs. Zahid Valencia

¯ Series Five: Women’s 76 kg, Adeline Gray vs. Korinahe Bullock

¯ Series Six: Men’s 86 kg, David Taylor vs. Nick Reenan

Those matches will be contested in order a maximum of three times or until a winner has been determined.

Taylor and his opponent, Nick Reenan, don’t have much in common beyond the fact that they will be paired on a raised mat in Rec Hall tonight.

Taylor, 27, is six years older than Reenan, who will be a redshirt sophomore at North Carolina State this fall. The two, Reenan said, have never met on a mat.

“We’ve never wrestled, or practiced or anything. I’ve never seen him at camps anywhere. I’ve watched a lot of his wrestling because he’s a great competitor. I think we match up well,” Reenan said.

“My game plan is mostly to get to my stuff. I think it’s especially relevant in this match to make sure I get on my offense before he gets on his. He’s very offensive.”

Taylor undoubtedly will have a home mat advantage. Reenan seemed undaunted by that prospect.

“I don’t really care what the crowd’s doing. It’s not my business. I’m just here to wrestle and compete. What’s going on up here is not my concern,” he said.

Taylor, though, clearly indicated what an honor he thinks it will be to wrestle once again in Rec Hall.

“I love Penn State (fans) and they love me. To have the opportunity to wrestle in front of these people who have let me call this my home for the last almost decade of my life, my wife and I got married, live here and own a house … Central Pennsylvania is more than just home to me,” he said. “To have the opportunity to wrestle here again, I really can’t put it into words.”

While Taylor is the headliner for obvious reasons, there will be plenty of intrigue in several of the other matchups.

McKenna and Stieber are both Ohio State Buckeyes. McKenna will be a senior this fall. Stieber was a four-time NCAA champion for OSU from 2011-15. The two have trained together in the Ohio State wrestling room until they each qualified for Final X.

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion (the only man to win four NCAA titles at four different weights) for Cornell from 2010-13 meets emerging Arizona State NCAA champion Valencia. A junior-to-be for the Sun Devils, Valencia upset Penn State’s Mark Hall in the 2018 NCAA 174-pound final. Many consider this the marquee matchup.

Gray is a three-time world champion who was upset in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and had to settle for a seventh-place finish, out of medal contention.

For each of the 12 wrestlers, tonight’s matches represent another step in reaching their wrestling goals.

“I’m working toward the ultimate goal of mine, that’s to be the best in the world. I believe I’m really close,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to go out and wrestle in front of these people. This is the best wrestling fan base in the country.”

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