OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Penn State is well on its way to a fourth consecutive NCAA wrestling championship, but the Nittany Lions will have to work to get it.
With 10 wrestlers still alive, Penn State is still in great shape, but it took some hits Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Through two rounds the Nittany Lions have pushed five wrestlers through to the quarterfinals: Nico Megaludis (125 pounds), Zain Retherford (141), David Taylor (165), Matt Brown (174) and Ed Ruth (184).
Penn State’s Nicholas Megaludis, left, wrestles Lehigh's Darian Cruz, right, in a 125-pound match in the first round of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday morning.
Four other Nittany Lions lost Round of 16 matches Thursday night, but are still alive in the second round of consolations: James English (149), Dylan Alton (157), Morgan McIntosh (197) and Jon Gingrich (285).
Jimmy Gulibon (133) lost his first-round match, but bounced back with a win in the first round of consolations and is alive in the second round of consolations.
Penn State is in first place with 26.5 points. Minnesota and Oklahoma State are tied for second with 21.5. Iowa and Oklahoma are tied for fourth with 20.5 each. Minnesota has six in the quarterfinals, Oklahoma State, Iowa and Penn State have five each.
"Any time you lose matches you don't need to lose. I think it's frustrating. I think we had some gutsy performances. Obviously Zain had a tough matchup. Nico did a nice job. When you look at the lineup, our guys that are wrestling well," head coach Cael Sanderson said.
"Jimmy did a nice job there. That would've been an easy time for him to get frustrated but he kept his composure and ended up getting a major. Tomorrow's a big day. It always is, Friday."
Both the quarterfinals and second round of consolations will be contested starting at 11 this morning in Session 3.
Megaludis got the Nittany Lions off to a roaring start as he shook off an early takedown by Lehigh's Darian Cruz and rolled to an 18-3 technical fall in 7:00. In the Round of 16 he blanked Oklahoma State's Eddie Klimara, 6-0. He meets Oklahoma's Jarrod Patterson in today's quarterfinals.
Retherford had arguably the most difficult draw for Penn State, paired with All-American Undrakhbayar Khishignyam of the Citadel, who placed fourth last year. Retherford, under control the whole way, used two takedowns and an escape for a 5-0 win. He then demonstrated the same control in blanking Pitt's Edgar Bright, 3-0.
Taylor scored the initial takedown against South Dakota State's Joseph Brewster, but Brewster escaped and scored a takedown to send a buzz through the arena. However, that spurred Taylor who scored a fall in 2:59. He picked up another fall in the next round, decking Jim Wilson of Stanford in 6:55. Taylor meets No. 8 seed Michael Moreno of Iowa State in the quarters.
"I feel pretty good. Obviously whenever you can pick up those extra points it's important. Each one of these matches is equally important and the more points you pick up in the bracket is more points for the team," Taylor said.
"It's part of what you want to do. If you don't want those expectaions, why would you try to be the best wrestler in the country. That (pressure) kind of just comes with it. These are my last few matches. The last time I have to step out there and really enjoy this time. It doesn't happen again when you have that many fans rooting you on to win and have success. It's pretty special and something you can't take for granted."
Brown added to the Nittany Lions' bonus point bonanza in his first-round match with Stanford's Kyle Meyer, rolling to a 17-3 major decision. In the next round, Brown notched a measured 6-1 decision over Tanner Weatherman of Iowa State. Brown meets Iowa No. 4 seed and nemesis Mike Evans in the quarters.
Ruth picked up two more first-round bonus points for Penn State when he locked up his trademark crossface cradle and pinned Wisconsin's Jackson Hein in 1:59. That result elicited a Ruuuuuuuuth cheer from the Nittany Lion faithful. He did again the next round, racking up a 15-0 technical fall in 7:00 against Lazarus Reyes of Illinois. Ruth meets No. 7 seed Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota in the quarters.
Penn State posted a 9-1 record in the first round and led the team race with 16.5 points at the end of the session.
English scored an upset in a rollicking first-round match with Appalachian State No. 12 seed Dyllan Cottrell. English escaped 14 seconds into the second tiebreaker period and held off Cottrell for a 5-4 win. He then gave up a late takedown to No. 5 seed Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern in the Round of 16 to lose 4-3.
Alton met Michigan's Brian Murphy and scored a 5-1 decision in the rubber match for those two this season. Alton was awarded a crucial takedown in the third period on an officials' review, then tacked on a late takedown. Alton couldn't mount any offense and lost, 4-1, to No. 4 seed Ian Miller of Kent State.
McIntosh cruised to a 5-0 first-round blanking of Lehigh's John Bolich. Then, against No. 14 seed Chris Penny of Virginia Tech, he was upset, 3-2.
Gingrich ran PSU's first-round record to 9-1 with a 12-4 major decision over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville's David Devine. He then dropped a 5-2 decision to No. 3 seed Adam Chalfant of Indiana.
Gulibon had a tough draw, meeting Oklahoma State's Jon Morrison in the first round. As he had twice before, the Cowboy shut out Gulibon, this time 4-0. Gulibon bounced back with a 10-2 major decision of Vincent Pizzuto of Eastern Michigan.
Gulibon, English, Alton, McIntosh and Gingrich all will wrestle in the second round of consolations this morning. The quarterfinals are also this morning, in a round that starts at 11 a.m.
"It's always the quarters and the semis and we've got five guys in the wrestlebacks now that need to come on strong for us and score some points," Sanderson said.
"Oh it's it. We need everybody's best effort at this point. We need big points here. You've got to go a long way so it takes a lot of heart to come back and we need guys coming back and placing and we need bonus points just like Day 1. We need to keep doing the same things."