Taylor wins in Rec Hall in Final X

UNIVERSITY PARK — David Taylor was always a Rec Hall crowd favorite during his days on the Penn State wrestling team. The mutual admiration continued Saturday night.

Taylor was one of six athletes to earn a spot on the U.S. Senior Freestyle World Team and a trip to the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in October, during USA Wrestling’s Final X event. For Taylor, it was his first berth on the senior team and something that was a long time coming.

“It feels dang good. This isn’t the end goal but this is the first step. Unfortunately, I haven’t been here yet but to do it here at home in front of these fans is pretty special,” he said. “In my first match running out there, I had all these thoughts and emotions going through my head, like whoever thought I’d come back here to wrestle? What I work my butt off for every single day for two matches, a couple of minutes of wrestling? I was so pumped up.”

Taylor was arguably a little too amped up for his first bout with his 86 kilogram opponent, Nick Reenan, a North Carolina State rising redshirt sophomore. Reenan used Taylor’s enthusiasm and energy against him as Reenan shrugged him by for the first takedown of the match.

“I can wrestle at a really high pace. One takedown is not going to beat me, a couple of scores are not going to beat me. I feel confident I can continue to wrestle through situations,” Taylor said

He showed his innate ability to score in bunches after that initial takedown and 2-0 deficit. After giving up those first two points, Taylor blanked Reenan 25-0, winning the first match 13-2 by technical superiority in 2:32 and the second, 12-0 by technical superiority in 2:46.

After his second win, Taylor was interviewed on the raised mat. He promptly plucked the microphone from his interviewer and addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support and, ultimately, leading a charged Rec Hall gathering in a rousing We Are … Penn State cheer.

Five other men’s and women’s world team members were decided, as well.

At men’s 65 kilograms, Logan Stieber emerged victorious in a battle of Buckeyes. Stieber, the former Ohio State star, had to gut out an 8-8 criteria win over Joey McKenna, who is currently on the OSU roster, in the first matchup and then cruised to an 8-0 win in the second bout.

At men’s 79 kg, Kyle Dake defeated Zahid Valencia two matches to none, but it was a battle in both matches. Dake showed otherworldly defense in the first bout, using two takedowns for a 4-0 win. In the second, each wrestler turned up the intensity and the pace. Dake rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit, using a four-point takedown and exposure to pull out a 4-3 win.

On the women’s side, three-time world champion Adeline Gray nailed down her eighth world team berth by dominating Kori Bullock at 76 kg. Gray won 10-0 in 1:15 in the first matchup and then by fall in 1:04 in the second.

At 62 kg, Mallory Velte dropped her first match to Kayla Miracle, 4-2, then won the next two bouts, 4-2 and 7-1. At 72 kg, Erin Clodgo qualified for the world team for a second time, needing all three matches to turn away Rachel Watters. Clodgo sandwiched 4-2 and 4-4 criteria wins around an 8-0 loss in the second match.

For Taylor, earning a world team spot was sweet redemption for a post-collegiate wrestling career that hasn’t matched the success on the mat he had experienced as a youth wrestler and then in high school and college.

“It’s not always easy. I started winning championships when I was 8 years old and I’ve been winning everything since then. There hasn’t been a lot of adversity,” he said.

Taylor was a four-time Ohio state high school champion and a four-time NCAA finalist and two-time champion at Penn State. When he graduated from Penn State and transitioned to freestyle wrestling full time, he admittedly struggled.

“It’s tough, it’s tough. A lot of times I wondered ‘am I doing the right thing? Should I continue wrestling?’ It’s hard on your spouse to maintain that kind of dedication to the sport to not quite get what you want,” he said.

“In college you always have another match to wrestle and your goal is to be a national champion but the world championship and Olympics is such a small group of people. It takes all that plus more. It takes every single effort, every single second. It takes your best day,” he said. “The guys I’ve wrestled in the past might be teammates. And I’ve got to thank these guys (Dake…Stieber), they’ve been pushing me, beating me. It’s sucky at times but I can dig down deep, figure out what I need to do to make some adjustments and I feel I’m wrestling the best I’ve ever wrestled.”