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No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Minnesota locked in close battle after Day 1 of NCAA Championships

Penn State's David Taylor takes control in his second-round win. Tony Rotundo photo.

ST. LOUIS – Top-ranked Penn State was the pronounced favorite heading into the NCAA Championships.

But the second-ranked Minnesota Gophers, among other top teams, are not about to concede anything to the returning team champion Nittany Lions.

Penn State and Minnesota both started strong on the opening day of the three-day NCAA wrestling tournament before a sellout crowd of 18,694 fans Thursday at the Scottrade Center.

The Nittany Lions have the lead after the first two sessions with 38.5 points. Seven Penn State wrestlers have advanced to the quarterfinals, set for 10 a.m. Friday in St. Louis.

Top-seeded Penn State wrestlers Frank Molinaro (149 pounds), David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) reached the quarterfinals along with returning NCAA champion Quentin Wright (184). All nine Nittany Lion qualifiers are still alive in the tournament.

“It was a good day,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “You always want more, but the guys wrestled well. We won all but two matches. Tomorrow’s a big day. That’s when you really start scoring points. We need to keep it going, and have some fun and get after it.”

Minnesota is a close second with 33 points and eight wrestlers in the quarterfinals. Fourth-ranked Oklahoma State is third with 28.5 points and four in the quarters. Fifth-ranked Cornell is in fourth with 27.5 points and four in the quarters. Third-ranked Iowa is fifth with 26 points and six in the quarters.

Minnesota’s young team has grown up quickly this season. The Gophers have four freshmen – Chris Dardanes (133), Nick Dardanes (141), Dylan Ness (149) and Logan Storley (174) – in the quarters. Minnesota also has sophomores Kevin Steinhaus (184) and Tony Nelson (285) in the quarters along with seniors Zach Sanders (125) and Sonny Yohn (197). Minnesota’s Cody Yohn, seeded 10th, went 0-2 on Thursday.

“Our guys are wrestling really good,” Minnesota coach J Robinson said. “They are wrestling tough and focused. They need to bring that to every round and that’s what we are trying to do. They need to stay intense. They are buying into what we are telling them to do. We just have to keep moving forward.”

Cornell junior Kyle Dake, halfway to winning four NCAA titles, recorded his second pin of the day at 157. Dake won an NCAA title at 141 in 2010 before winning at 149 last year. Dake, now 12-0 in his career in this event, pinned Air Force’s Joshua Kreimier in the second round.

Returning champions Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State (133), Kellen Russell of Michigan (141) and Zach Rey of Lehigh (285) passed their second-round tests.

Iowa junior Matt McDonough, a two-time finalist who won this event in 2010, won by fall in the second round at 125.

McDonough headlocked and pinned North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle to advance to the quarterfinals. He will face past All-American Ryan Mango of Stanford in the quarters.

“That’s what you go out there to do, wrestling the very best you can,” McDonough said. “It was a good starting point, but I still have things I need to do better and try to improve on. Winning with a headlock, that’s the first move you learn as a little kid. It’s a fun move to hit. I’m trying to use every move I can in my arsenal and be dangerous out there.”

The highest seed that fell on Thursday was No. 3 Alan Waters of Missouri at 125. Pitt’s Anthony Zanetta outlasted Waters 4-2 in overtime. The unseeded Zanetta is 29-4 this season.
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