Tough Day for Penn State’s Wrestling Team
It’s really no surprise to hear Cael Sanderson say, “I hate losing.” It’s almost superfluous. This is a guy who never lost a college match, who won an Olympic gold medal on his first try, who took a struggling Penn State wrestling team and, in Season Two, directed it to a 13-0 start, the best in the program’s history.
But it’s another thing to look at Sanderson’s face after a loss. Especially after a loss to Iowa. For all of his success, Sanderson has never been part of a team that’s beaten Iowa—not as an Iowa State athlete, not as an Iowa State coach, not as a Penn State coach.
So No. 1 Penn State’s 22-13 loss to Iowa on Sunday in front of a standing-room-only Rec Hall crowd was particularly disappointing. The loss, of course, would have been bad enough. But this had been Penn State’s mostly highly anticipated dual meet in recent memory—it was sold out weeks ahead of time—and it had all the attendant pageantry: a sea of white T-shirts, Miss Penn State Idol singing the national anthem, even tailgaters in the parking lot across Atherton Street from Rec Hall. Fans lined the track to watch: Attendance was announced at 6,686.
“You either seize the moment—take advantage of it—or you don’t,” Sanderson said. “We didn’t. If you look at the tape, you could see they wanted it a little more than we did. I’m not sure how that could be possible, but that was the case tonight.”
Freshman 174-pounder Ed Ruth, whose wide-open, crowd-pleasing style has made him a fan favorite, wasn’t really sure what happened. He told a group of reporters, “I’m as surprised about these results as you guys are.”
The Nittany Lions didn’t wrestle in the style that had made it so easy to get excited about the match. They weren’t racking up the team bonus points earned by beating individual opponents by large margins. They weren’t taking advantage of their conditioning to dominate opponents late in their bouts. They looked tired, although Sanderson didn’t think that was because of their physical shape. He thinks emotion may have gotten the best of them.
“They weren’t themselves,” Sanderson said. “We weren’t ourselves a week ago, either. We’ve just got to get back in rhythm and keep wrestling as a team that’s trying to climb the mountain.”
The Nittany Lions put themselves in a hole by losing their first three matches. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Iowa’s Matt McDonough got a pin at 125 pounds; he’s the defending NCAA champion, and Penn State freshman Nate Morgan was wrestling only because the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart are academically ineligible and injured. It was more complicated at 133 pounds: Penn State’s Andrew Long, a transfer from Iowa State, was ranked No. 5, and Iowa’s Tony Ramos was ranked No. 10. But Long didn’t wrestle in the fall semester, and he’s moved up from 125 to 133 pounds, so he’s not yet at full strength, and Ramos came away with the 3-2 victory.
The killer came at 141 pounds. Freshman Andrew Alton got a big five-point move with 16 seconds left in the first period and appeared, from some angles, to have pinned Iowa’s Montell Marion. (Check out Tina’s photo, left.) But he didn’t get the call—and then he didn’t score another offensive point the entire match.
“Andrew’s a great kid, a great wrestler,” said fellow freshman David Taylor, who picked up Penn State’s only bonus points with a major decision at 157 pounds. “Sometimes you let the crowd get to you, you know? It’s a big crowd—sometimes it affects you positively, sometimes it affects you negatively. And unfortunately, I think Andrew maybe let it get him a little bit in the wrong way.”
The 12-0 deficit turned out to be too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome.
“A loss is a loss, whether it’s to Iowa or anybody else,” Sanderson said. “It’s more performance. If we go out there and we’re at our best and we get beat, well, so be it. That’s fine. When you’re not at your best, as a coach, you’ve got to really take a look at what’s going on.”
I have no doubt Sanderson is already well into that process.
Lori Shontz, senior editor