Nittany Lions upset Hawkeyes on the mat

By Contributing Writer

by: Nadar Ihmoud, Contributing Writer

The University of Iowa Hawkeyes entered the 2011 Big Ten Wrestling Championships with momentum. They completed the 2010-2011 regular season with a conference championship and were favored to win the tournament crown.

However, they ran into the Penn State University Nittany Lions, who upset them to win their first wrestling title in the school’s history and their first conference wrestling championship.

The tournament was held at Welsh-Ryan Arena, 1501 Central St. in Evanston, Ill., on March 5 and 6. Penn State beat the Hawkeyes by one point.

The Nittany Lions needed a huge  last leg, down 10 points before claiming a championship to build steam heading into the NCAA tournament.

“[Winning the Big Ten title] is good momentum going into Nationals,” said Penn State Head Coach Cael Sanderson.

The 2011 NCAA Wrestling tournament will take  place March 17–19 in Philadelphia, where the Nittany Lions will have a strong presence in their home state.

Penn State had five individual champions at the 133-149-157-174, and 184-pound weight classes. The Nittany Lions also swept the individual awards with David Taylor, at 157 pounds, earning conference Wrestler of the Year and Freshman of the Year accolades.

Penn State 184-pounder Quentin Wright was named Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships, while Sanderson picked up Coach of the Year honors.

“It really sets the bar high, changes the whole program around,” said Frank Molinaro, Penn State’s 149-weight-class champion.

Iowa took an early lead in the tournament approaching the final round. They held the lead with 121 points and a 10-point advantage against Penn State.

The finals began with one of the most anticipated matches of the night with two of the nation’s most highly-ranked 125-pounders facing off. Top ranked Matt McDonough of Iowa was pitted against Northwestern University’s Brandon Precin. McDonough defeated Precin with a late takedown in the final period.

Penn State answered back with a win when 133-pounder Andrew Long defeated the University of Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff.

With seconds in the final period ticking off, Graff was called for a technical violation for stalling, or avoiding his opponent, which tied the match and forced overtime. Long quickly got the takedown in overtime for a victory.

Penn State did not have another championship bout until the 149-pound weight class.

Penn State won four of the next five weight classes respectively. At the 149-pound weight class, Molinaro defeated

Michigan’s Eric Grajales 3-0. Shortly after, teammate David Taylor delivered a win at the 157-pound weight class against Iowa’s Derek St. John, completing an undefeated season.

Penn State’s Ed Ruth then defeated Ohio State’s Nick Heflin, 8-5, at the 184-pound weight class.

Wright, seeded eighth, converted two upsets in the tournament. In the quarterfinals, he beat top-seed Travis Rutt of Wisconsin, and then defeated No. 2 seed Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota in the finals. His victory gave Penn State the final lead of tournament.

“Personally, I think it was my [most important] match since I was the last one to score big points for the team,” Wright said. “If I won, we had a chance to win as a team.”

Later, Wright praised teammate Cameron Wade, who took 5th in the heavy weight division. He said Wade’s win solidified the teams’ victory because he won by a major decision and gave the team its winning points.

Wade defeated Minnesota’s Ben Apland by the major decision—eight points or more. One mat down from the action, Iowa’s Blake Rasing became the Hawkeye’s second individual champion.

Wisconsin and Michigan were the two schools to have individual champions, excluding Iowa and Penn State.

Wisconsin’s Andrew Howe won his second Big Ten Championship at the 165-pound weight class, defeating Ohio State’s Colt Sponseller. Howe’s teammate Trevor Brandvoid also won his respected 197-pound weight class, beating Iowa’s Luke Lofthouse in the finals.

Michigan’s lone champion came at the 141-pound weight class, when Kellen Russel defeated Minnesota’s Michael Thorn 8-4.

Penn State dethroned Iowa, which won the previous three Big Ten Championships, but Penn State wrestlers said they understand with Nationals coming up on March 17 winning will take a lot of preparation.

“It feels good, but you [have] to respect [Iowa] for being up there all the time, so it’s more of we got you this weekend, in two weeks its another story.” Wright said. “We will enjoy it today, but we will go back to training tomorrow.”