Photo of David Taylor of Penn State competing in the 2014 Southern Scuffle by Jennie Tate, Penn State
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – During the popular movie Catch Me if You Can, Tom Hanks’ character asks the question, “How did you do this? How did you do any of this?”
That is what much of the wrestling community wants to ask Cael Sanderson.
And a freshman from Lowell, Mich., named Gabe Dean.
Actually, the question is not that hard to answer. The sleeping giant that was Penn State wrestling, located in the heart of what is considered by many to be a gold mine of talent, brought in Sanderson to bring life to a program without an NCAA title since the 1950s.
The results have been impressive to say the least. The Nittany Lions added to the trophy case on Thursday night, claiming a fourth consecutive Southern Scuffle team title. PSU crowned two champions and outdistanced second place Oklahoma State by 34 ½ points. PSU won just two of their six finals matches, but the hay was in the barn long before the evening session kicked off.
“Our guys wrestled well (Thursday),” said Sanderson. “Going into the semifinals it was neck-and-neck; our guys just wrestled well and won some close matches. You have to add up all the little things. There really is no secret … you win and you get points, you lose and you don’t.”
Winning and scoring points have become synonymous with Penn State wrestling.
Seniors David Taylor and Ed Ruth have led the pack. Taylor’s tournament included two pins, a technical fall, and two major decisions, the second in the finals over Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell. A third-period reversal led to a lightning-quick cradle to break open a 4-0 match. Taylor leaves Chattanooga with a 117-3 career mark.
“This is a tough tournament, a lot of really skilled guys,” said Taylor, now a three-time Scuffle champion. “It is still a learning experience; we have some young guys. It’s a challenge to wrestle right after Christmas. We all have improvements, including me, as we head into the main part of the season with Minnesota and Oklahoma State in duals.”
On Thursday night, Ruth, in search of his fourth Scuffle title, proved to be human after all. The 184-pounder suffered his third loss in 121 career starts, falling to Cornell freshman Gabe Dean, 7-4. The Big Red rookie countered a Ruth shot in the final period, and, combined with a first-period takedown, proved to be better on this night. Ruth, whose last loss came during his freshman season, pinned Dean in the first period in the Binghamton finals. Ruth had won 84 straight matches.
“I have to give credit to Ed Ruth, what a great opponent he is, and the Penn State fans … they make this event really fun,” said Dean, now 21-2. “All you can do is wrestle for seven minutes. If you do that winning and losing will take care of itself.
“The little things, let’s get after it. The last time I played it really conservative and it cost me with that crossface cradle. I just went out and wrestled hard for seven minutes. I’m just a small-town kid from Michigan, so all credit goes to my coaches; they do such a great job getting us ready. Losing (Dake and Bosak), to be where we are right now, that is because of the coaches.”
Penn State’s second champion was rising star Zain Retherford, a four-time state champion in Pennsylvania and a Cadet World champion, who appears to be following in Taylor and Ruth’s footsteps. The 141-pounder, already with a victory over two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State this season, won the 141-pound title, beating Virginia’s Joe Spisak with an overtime takedown in the finals. Spisak beat Minnesota’s previously unbeaten Chris Dardanes in the semifinals. Retherford is now 16-0.
Another PSU rookie, Jimmy Gulibon, entered the tournament 4-6. He knocked off second-seeded Ryan Mango of Stanford in the semifinals before dropping a 4-0 decision to Oklahoma State’s Jon Morrison in the 133-pound final.
Megaludis, a two-time NCAA finalist and Scuffle champion a year ago, dropped a 6-4 finals match to Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett at 125 pounds..
“It is important to have that role model, someone you want to emulate,” said Sanderson. “We want everybody to look at Penn State and see David Taylor, Ed Ruth … Nico Megaludis, and say that is how I want to wrestle, going hard for every second you are on the mat. Those are the types of kids we want.
“I don’t think we had any surprises, we try not to have any. (Retherford) has been tough as nails from the start and Gulibon had a tough stretch, but those losses came against some of the best in the country. Retherford was a four-time Pennsylvania state champion, so he knows how to win.”
The second-place Cowboys had three champions. Joining Morrison with a second Scuffle title was Chris Perry (13-1) and talented sophomore Alex Dieringer (16-0). Perry beat Penn State’s Matt Brown in the finals in a rematch of the 2013 NCAA championship bout, while Dieringer needed a ride-out in the first set of tiebreakers to beat Kent State’s Ian Miller at 157 pounds.
Morrison will take an unbeaten record into a Jan. 10 OSU-Iowa match in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“This tournament, for me last year, helped my confidence,” said Morrison. “I don’t think I wrestled as well as I would have liked (this week) but it is still great to win another title here. This is a tough tournament. I’m looking forward to the trip to Iowa and the rest of the season. (Tony) Ramos beat me twice last year and I’m looking forward to getting another shot.”
Already this season, PSU has decisive victories over Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and over Ohio State. Even without two starters – Andrew and Dylan Alton – it appears, at least currently, that the Nittany Lions are once again at the top of the Division I wrestling ladder.
“It is still early in the season; the December and early tournaments are always a good indicator of the things that can happen in March,” said Sanderson, whose team faces Oklahoma State and Minnesota in back-to-back duals in February. “Our plan is to get better each week, have our guys making progress. It is a lot more fun to keep working to get better when you are winning compared to losing. That requires a certain kind of mindset, not to be satisfied, wanting to keep improving.”
On Thursday, Minnesota hung around for a while, but a disastrous semifinal round ended the Gophers’ hopes of ending Penn State’s run in Chattanooga’s McKenzie Arena. All-Americans Chris Dardanes, Dylan Ness, Logan Storley, and Kevin Steinhaus each lost, Ness getting cradled and pinned by Kent State’s Miller in the first period and Dardanes, the top seed and unbeaten at 141 pounds, dropping a down-to-the-wire bout to Virginia’s Joe Spisak.
The evening session did not start will for the Gophers. Missouri’s Drake Houdeshelt (21-1) pinned Nick Dardanes in the 149-pound final with :08 remaining in the opening period. It was Dardanes’ first loss in 19 bouts this season.
J Robinson’s group did finish on a high note, getting championships from top-seeded Scott Schiller at 197 and Tony Nelson at 285 pounds. Schiller (18-0) beat Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson in the finals, while Nelson (19-0) edged North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, 1-0.
Cornell, although a distant fourth, showed they will remain a part of the conversation. Garrett (15-1), Dean, and Brian Realbuto, another rookie who took Dieringer to the wire in the semifinals, will make some noise down the road.
“We’ve got some great freshman; this is our ‘so-called’ rebuilding year,” said Cornell boss Rob Koll. “But when you are rebuilding and you are ranked sixth in the country that is not a bad thing. We’ve been top five the last five or six years and our goal is to finish somewhere in there again this year. It will be tough, but that being said, we are really looking forward to the next couple of years with the nucleus we have.
“It was good for (Realbuto) to see that match. (Dieringer) hit us with the same move twice, so we have seen that. And (Dean), I have been talking him up for a while now. We worked out earlier this year and for me it was about not if he would place (at nationals) but how high.”
Missouri, Virginia, Kent State, Iowa State, Oregon State, and Old Dominion rounded out the top 10 in the 34-team field.
One question Chattanooga head coach Heath Eslinger has to address is the amount of matches over the two-day event. With over 30 programs and additional entries allowed for each team, the Scuffle may need to make some changes, possibly moving to a three-day format or shrinking the brackets.
“This (tournament) continues to grow,” said Eslinger. “What we don’t want is to have guys taking medical forfeits in medal matches, that is not what the fans want to see. But it is understandable after a guy wrestles six, seven, eight matches over two days. (Thursday) is longer than any NCAA Tournament day, so it is one of the things we have to look at. This thing is about the student-athletes and the fans, not about the coaches, so we have to do what is best for them. What we don’t want to do is wrestle late into the night. We learn new things every year and will try to make sure it continues to improve.”
at Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan 1-2
1st Place Match - Nahshon Garrett (Cornell) won by decision over Nicholas Megaludis (Penn State) (Dec 6-4)
3rd Place Match - Martin(Josh) Martinez (Air Force) won by decision over David Terao (American) (Dec 6-0)
5th Place Match - Brandon Jeske (Old Dominion ) won by major decision over Zach Synon (Missouri) (Maj 9-1)
7th Place Match - Evan Silver (Stanford) won by decision over Caleb Richardson (Pennsylvania) (Dec 7-1)
1st Place Match - Jon Morrison (Oklahoma State) won by decision over James Gulibon (Penn State) (Dec 4-0)
3rd Place Match - David Thorn (Minnesota) won by tech fall over Nick Soto (Chattanooga) (TF 17-2)
5th Place Match - Joe Roth (Central Michigan) won by decision over Jordan Conaway (Penn State) (Dec 5-2)
7th Place Match - Mackenzie McGuire (Kent State) won by decision over Matt Manley (Missouri) (Dec 3-2)
1st Place Match - Zain Retherford (Penn State) won in sudden victory - 1 over Joseph Spisak (Virginia) (SV-1 6-4)
3rd Place Match - Chris Mecate (Old Dominion ) won by decision over Christopher Dardanes (Minnesota) (Dec 4-3)
5th Place Match - Evan Henderson (North Carolina) won by major decision over Tyler Small (Kent State) (Maj 9-0)
7th Place Match - Luke Vaith (Hofstra) and Zach Horan (Central Michigan) (DFF)
1st Place Match - Drake Houdashelt (Missouri) won by fall over Nick Dardanes (Minnesota) (Fall 2:53)
3rd Place Match - Josh Kindig (Oklahoma State) won by medical forfeit over Augustus Sako (Virginia) (MFF)
5th Place Match - Scott Sakaguchi (Oregon State) won by medical forfeit over Christopher Villalonga (Cornell ) (MFF)
7th Place Match - Alexander Richardson (Old Dominion ) won by injury default over Luke Frey (Penn State) (Inj. 5:58)
1st Place Match - Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) won in tie breaker - 1 over Ian Miller (Kent State) (TB-1 2-1)
3rd Place Match - Nestor Taffur (Boston) won by decision over Rj Pena (Oregon State) (Dec 13-10)
5th Place Match - Brian Realbuto (Cornell ) won by medical forfeit over Dylan Ness (Minnesota) (MFF)
7th Place Match - Luke Smith (Central Michigan) won in tie breaker - 1 over Kyle Bradley (Missouri) (TB-1 6-5)
1st Place Match - David Taylor (Penn State) won by major decision over Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State) (Maj 9-1)
3rd Place Match - Nicholas Sulzer (Virginia) won by major decision over Zach Toal (Missouri) (Maj 12-2)
5th Place Match - Joseph Booth (Hofstra) won by medical forfeit over Dylan Palacio (Cornell ) (MFF)
7th Place Match - Turtogtokh Luvsandorj (The Citadel) won by decision over Peyton Walsh (Navy) (Dec 6-4)
1st Place Match - Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) won by decision over Mathew Brown (Penn State) (Dec 4-0)
3rd Place Match - Logan Storley (Minnesota) won by decision over Tyler Wilps (Pittsburgh) (Dec 7-3)
5th Place Match - Lelund Weatherspoon (Iowa State) won by medical forfeit over Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State) (MFF)
7th Place Match - Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) won by decision over Mike England (Missouri) (Dec 7-3)
1st Place Match - Gabriel Dean (Cornell) won by decision over Edward Ruth (Penn State) (Dec 7-4)
3rd Place Match - Sam Wheeler (Kent State) won by decision over Brett Pfarr (Minnesota) (Dec 10-6)
5th Place Match - Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota) won by decision over Lawrence Thomas (Pennsylvania) (Dec 6-3)
7th Place Match - Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State) won by medical forfeit over Jonathan Fausey (Virginia) (MFF)
1st Place Match - Scott Schiller (Minnesota) won by decision over Kyven Gadson (Iowa State) (Dec 6-3)
3rd Place Match - J`Den Cox (Missouri) won by decision over Morgan McIntosh (Penn State) (Dec 8-2)
5th Place Match - Blake Rosholt (Oklahoma State) won by decision over Nick Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) (Dec 2-0)
7th Place Match - Jace Bennett (Cornell) won by medical forfeit over Brandon Palik (Drexel) (MFF)
1st Place Match - Anthony Nelson (Minnesota) won by decision over Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State) (Dec 1-0)
3rd Place Match - James Lawson (Penn State) won by medical forfeit over Jeremy Johnson (Ohio ) (MFF)
5th Place Match - Austin Marsden (Oklahoma State) won by medical forfeit over Jonathan Gingrich (Penn State) (MFF)
7th Place Match - Michael Kroells (Minnesota) won by decision over Ethan Hayes (Virginia) (Dec 5-3)
Team Standings - Top 25 teams
1. Penn State 189.0
2. Oklahoma State 164.5
3. Minnesota 161.0
4. Cornell 114.5
5. Missouri 102.5
6. Virginia 89.0
7. Kent State 73.5
8. Iowa State 71.5
9. Oregon State 60.0
10. Old Dominion 58.5
11. Pittsburgh 54.0
12. Air Force 44.5
13. Central Michigan 42.5
14. Boston 37.5
15. Ohio 37.5
16. Chattanooga 34.0
17. Hofstra 33.5
18. North Carolina 32.0
19. Pennsylvania 31.0
20. Stanford 30.0
21. North Carolina State 28.5
22. South Dakota State 28.5
23. American 21.5
24. Duke 21.5
25. Navy 19.5