A Fitting Rec Hall Finale for Taylor and Ruth
Much to his surprise, David Taylor began to cry. He was standing behind the bleachers at Rec Hall with his family Sunday afternoon, watching his teammate, fellow fifth-year senior Ed Ruth, walk out to be honored before their last wrestling match in Rec Hall, and suddenly it hit him. All the hours of work. All the Nittany Lions have accomplished in their four years on the mat. All the people who had supported and sacrificed for him.
Taylor has wrestled a lot of big matches, and he’s got two huge tournaments remaining in his college career—Big Tens and nationals. But he found himself getting keyed up for his final match as he walked onto the mat to be honored by the crowd. He still had tears in his eyes. Said Taylor, “I haven’t been that excited to wrestle in a long time, to be honest with you.”
By the time Taylor actually wrestled, about an hour later, he was so keyed up that he started before the whistle. The referee issued a caution, and Taylor waited a fraction of a second before he went back to work. He pinned Clarion 165-pounder Michael Pavasko in only 11 seconds, the second-fastest pin in Penn State history.
“Sometimes when you’re wrestling, you don’t even know what’s going on until the match is over,” Taylor said. “That 11-second flurry … before I knew it, the match was over.”
As he has for four years, Ruth matched Taylor—both in result and in excitement. Ruth needed a little longer to get his cradle locked up, and Clarion 184-pounder Dustin Conti managed to wriggle out of Ruth’s grasp just a little, but not enough. Ruth won by fall, too. By comparison, his match took forever—1 minute, 5 seconds.
It was a fitting Rec Hall finale for the duo. Each is already a three-time All-American. Ruth has two NCAA titles; Taylor, a three-time finalist, has one. Taylor has 49 career falls, second on Penn State’s all-time list. Ruth is a notch behind Taylor in third place all-time, with 45 falls. Neither ever lost a dual-meet match, either.
Even their coach, who knows a thing or two both about what it takes to excel and how to entertain wrestling fans, took the time afterward to marvel—just a bit—at their overlapping careers.
“I’m just like the people in the stands—I just enjoy watching them wrestle,” Cael Sanderson said. “There’s a lot of great wrestlers, but not a lot of great wrestlers as fun to watch as those two. Just like anybody else, I appreciate the way they compete. Both of them have been very consistent, using every second of the match to score points with very rare, few exceptions to that throughout their career.
“That’s what makes them great. That’s why people will be talking about these two forever.”
They’ll be talking about Sanderson, too, who has turned Penn State from a traditionally strong program into a powerhouse, winning the past three NCAA titles. He couldn’t have done it without Taylor, who had committed to Iowa State when Sanderson coached there but got a release to follow Sanderson to Penn State, or without Ruth, who had been recruited by former coach Troy Sunderland and who swears he didn’t even know who Sanderson was (“the guy whose name is on my shoes …”) but decided, of course, to stay.
One of the great parts of their final Rec Hall post-match media appearance was how each stayed in character.
Taylor, an earnest perfectionist who’s always made an effort to get the crowd into matches, got emotional again as he recounted his day and stressed how many people he need to thank. Ruth, a free spirit who weathered a suspension earlier this season for DUI, declined to expound on his emotions—“I can’t say it any better than he just did,” he said, looking toward Taylor—but later thanked the media for having “welcoming eyes.”
And Sanderson? He appreciated what had happened, but he wanted more. He thought Taylor’s pin took only five or six seconds; the call was a little late because the official had to get the right angle. He thought the four pins in a row—Taylor, 174-pounder Matt Brown, Ruth, and 197-pounder Morgan MacIntosh—was fine, but noted that the Nittany Lions need four pins in a row at Big Tens and NCAAs, too. And he pointed out that Taylor and Ruth still have room for improvement.
“They both need to continue to make progress if they’re going to win Olympic gold medals,” he said. “That never ends. And they both have that mentality.”
After what Penn State wrestling fans have seen for the past four years, who could doubt that?
(Photo gallery below by Tina Hay.)
Lori Shontz, senior editor