By Jason Bryant
Reader Note: This preview was written prior to Friday competition
What role does Nebraska have in Sunday’s featured dual between the second-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and the third-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions?
Because Nebraska joined the Big Ten as the conference’s 12th member, it caused the Big Ten to reconfigure its wrestling schedule. As a result, Iowa finds itself making a second straight trip to University Park (State College to the rest of us).
After three matches in last year’s dual, Iowa led 12-0 en route to a 22-13 victory over Penn State in front of 6,686 fans at Rec Hall. Expect the same type of atmosphere in 2012, as tickets sold out in a mere 90 minutes.
Iowa will be coming in after wrestling at Ohio State on Friday and injuries notwithstanding, Penn State provides a formidable foe.
Should the dual start at 125, the Hawkeyes could be in the same spot they were a year ago, but Penn State’s middle to upper weights (149-184) are a combined 84-6 this season, with Frank Molinaro, David Taylor and Ed Ruth all undefeated.
Two-time NCAA finalist Matt McDonough comes in a heavy favorite over Penn State true freshman Nico Megaludis. While McDonough has 15 bonus victories, including nine falls, in his 19 victories, it might be a bit of a stretch to pencil in bonus points against Megaludis. The PSU frosh has lost four times this season, twice to Cornell’s Frank Perrelli and once to Minnesota three-time All-American Zach Sanders 6-2. The other loss was by disqualification against Michigan State’s Eric Olanowski, a match Megaludis was winning handily. Is McDonough capable of bonus points? Absolutely, he’s majored better guys than Megaludis, especially when he gets that nasty bar arm locked up. Expect Megaludis to keep this close and don’t be surprised if he sneaks a takedown in there.
After falling at the Midlands to Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter, Iowa’s Tony Ramos rebounded about as well as anyone could – by beating defending national champion Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State. Ramos’ opponent will be 7-1 Frank Martellotti, who is back in the lineup after sitting out the first semester ineligible. Martellotti, even in open tournaments, hasn’t seen an opponent the caliber of Ramos this year and with Ramos on a roll, this is clearly a position where Iowa could, and should, expect bonus points.
Much like 133 pounds, Iowa is expecting big points at 141 pounds with two-time All-American Montell Marion facing off against Bryan Pearsall. The Penn State junior is 10-6 this year, while Marion’s 17-1 with the lone loss coming in the finals of the Midlands. Marion rebounded with a sound victory over Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. If Marion’s on, this is no question this is at least four points. Pearsall’s top win this year is over Lock Haven’s Matt Bonson. Winning is infectious, so if McDonough and Ramos pick up big victories, expect Marion to follow suit.
Unbeaten NCAA runner-up Frank Molinaro has scored bonus points in 14 of his 18 victories this year. Iowa’s Mike Kelly is 12-5 on the year, but Kelly’s going to need some heavy mortar fire to beat The Tank. Bad metaphors aside, Penn State should get rolling at 149 and stop the potential bleeding after the first three bouts. Kelly’s job here is to keep Molinaro from piling up the points. Molinaro hasn’t had the toughest competition this year, with his two best wins coming over Minnesota freshman Dylan Ness.
Probably one of the two toss up bouts in the dual and it’s heavily dependent upon whether or not Iowa’s Derek St. John will be in the lineup. St. John’s 11-0 but hasn’t wrestled since the Northern Iowa dual in a 3-1 win over David Bonin. Penn State redshirt Dylan Alton comes in 14-4. He didn’t start the season as electric as twin brother Andrew did last season, but two of Alton’s losses have come to All-Americans (Kyle Dake, Jason Welch) and to Clarion’s James Fleming and Minnesota’s Jacob Deitchler. Does mat rust exist in the Hawkeye room? Either way, this one’s clearly a toss up. If Iowa throws in Nick Moore, Alton’s a heavy favorite.
A lot of talk is surrounding this bout, not because people are expecting Mike Evans to win, but they’re believing he can hang with Penn State’s David Taylor. Taylor is 17-0 and all 17 wins are by bonus points. Evans is a stout 18-2 (officially) this year with his only two losses coming in a nail-biter to Iowa State’s Andrew Sorenson and Clarion’s Bekzod Abdurakhmanov. There can be comparisons made about how big Evans is at the weight, but there’s one (unofficial) common opponent – American graduate Steve Fittery. Taylor again beat Fittery at the Penn State Open, while Fittery majored Evans. With the Magic Man at home eager to beat Iowa, Taylor piles up the points and closes the team score gap.
Last year, Ed Ruth handled Ethen Lofthouse 10-3. This year, Ruth is wrestling even better and that could be bad news for Lofthouse. Eight of the last nine matches Ruth has wrestled have ended with bonus points, including three falls and four technical falls. Lofthouse avenged his loss to Northwestern’s Lee Munster in last week’s dual, but it’s the same Munster who Ruth teched. Lofthouse has the ability to make this a match and try to wear down Ruth, but what are the odds it actually happens? On paper, this one’s all Ruth, with the high probability of bonus points. Sure, Ruth held off Lofthouse at the Big Ten’s last year, but that was last year and just observationally, Ruth is wrestling at a higher level than he was a year ago.
The second mismatch in the dual to go along with 141 pounds. Defending national champion Quentin Wright of Penn State is 16-2 and has been on a roll since suffering two early season losses to All-Americans Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota and Robert Hamlin of Lehigh. Iowa’s Vinnie Wagner has a tall order ahead of him to avoid giving up too many bonus points. Wright loves to go for the fall and has an arsenal of throws from over ties combined with inside trips. Wright gets bonus, but the question is, what kind of bonus.
Both Morgan McIntosh and Grant Gambrall came into this season with high expectations. Gambrall, an All-American a year ago at 184 pounds, has struggled by Hawkeye standards with a meager 7-4 record. McIntosh is a true freshman at a weight tough for any first-year starter. Both have close matches with Northwestern’s John Schoen, with Gambrall splitting a pair and McIntosh scoring late to edge the Wildcat. Gambrall’s matches have been low scoring, which could be to his advantage. If Penn State comes into 197 picking up big victories at the previous four weights, McIntosh might be using that wave of momentum to his advantage. This one’s a toss up and one Iowa needs to have in order to be in position to fend off the Nittany Lions.
Iowa’s Bobby Telford beat out returning Big Ten champion Blake Rasing to win the spot at heavyweight, but after losing three straight matches, there are rumblings that Rasing may see the mat against Cameron Wade. Telford’s a bit more mobile than Rasing, which plays into the hands of Wade a bit better. After Wade’s 1-0 win over Rasing in last year’s dual, it might not be a bad call to insert Rasing in the lineup to slow Wade down and try to get a victory late. Telford’s shown he’s capable of winning close matches, but how much has his confidence been rattled? This is a toss-up (like most heavyweight bouts are), but with the slight edge going to Wade over both Telford or Rasing. Wade’s been putting up some points this year, but the contrast of styles between his opponent could limit the number of points scored in this one. This weight is a must-win for Iowa.