Posts tagged ‘Ed Ruth’

Wrestlers Hungry to Defend NCAA Title

Frank Molinaro celebrates his Big Ten title.

This time, of all things, it was cake.

Asked Monday afternoon if he had anything special planned for the wrestling team headed into the NCAA Championships, which start Thursday morning in St. Louis, coach Cael Sanderson said that after practice, everyone would eat a treat baked by a friend, Bonnie Epstein, who lives in Ohio.  Explained Sanderson, “To celebrate how great we’re going to wrestle this weekend.”

It was hard to know how seriously to take that. Wrestlers? Chowing down on cake? The week of the biggest tournament of the season? Except for heavyweights, these guys watch every mouthful they consume. Back in my Collegian days, I once interviewed a wrestler who told me the only thing he’d eaten since Monday was a Chicklet (this was on a Thursday), and earlier this season, 149-pounder Frank Molinaro cracked that when friends came over to watch Phil Davis compete in UFC, he served ice chips. I’m pretty sure that even though he laughed, that wasn’t really a joke.

But on Tuesday, Sanderson tweeted, “There’s ‘the Force’ in Star Wars and ‘the Power of Greyskull’ in He-man but nothing compares to the power of Bonnie Epstein.” So, apparently, he did let the wrestlers eat a little cake. And, apparently, it was really good. (Or, maybe, he ate it all himself?)

Asked about how, specifically, the Nittany Lions were preparing to defend their NCAA team title, Sanderson was a lot more reticent. Some guys watch film, some guys don’t. He wouldn’t specify who was who. He mentioned, again, that the wrestlers were at their best when they were confident and having fun, and he trotted out all of the usual clichés, about how winning the Big Ten title was a good “stepping stone” to the NCAAs, and how the wrestlers “feed off each other” when one particular guy dominates his opponent.

He also mentioned in passing that the Nittany Lions are underdogs in their quest to win back-to-back NCAA team titles. On paper, going by the seeds, if every wrestler holds his spot, the team title would go to Iowa. In real life, though, the Nittany Lions will be relying, again, on bonus team points for major decisions, technical falls, and pins. That’s the aggressive style of wrestling that made them the first Penn State NCAA team champion—and first team champion from east of the Mississippi—since 1953.

They’ve qualified nine wrestlers for nationals, and three of them are undefeated No. 1 seeds—Molinaro, 165-pounder David Taylor, and 174-pounder Ed Ruth.  (Ruth, by the way, is still sporting a two-toned hairdo, but he’s swapped out the blond for teal.) All of them were dominant at the Big Ten tournament, enabling the Nittany Lions to come from behind after they fell to third on the first day of the two-day tournament. If you want to get a sense of how pumped up these guys are, take a look at this video of Molinaro celebrating his victory. That’s some serious chest-thumping.

Wrestling starts Thursday morning, with the quarterfinals Friday morning and the semifinals Friday night. You can catch some of the action online at ESPN3 or on ESPNU (click here for the broadcast schedule). The finals, televised live by ESPN are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Should be fun to watch.

“Everybody expects that we’re going to be the champion,” Taylor said. “We expect the same thing.”

Lori Shontz, senior editor

March 15, 2012 at 8:46 am 1 comment

Penn State Wrestling’s Recipe for Success: Smile

Ed Ruth, undefeated at 174 pounds, posed with his two-toned tournament hairdo for Blue White Illustrated's Tim Owen.

In a glass-walled conference room in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex on Tuesday afternoon, coach Cael Sanderson calmly explained how the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament is seeded and assessed the Nittany Lions’ chance to win the tournament, which starts Saturday at Purdue.

Meanwhile, visible over his right shoulder, two wrestlers arrived for practice, grabbed a couple of foam swords (!?) and began whaling on each other. One wrestler ended up on the floor as the other “stabbed” him repeatedly in the torso, and while I can’t swear to this—Cael moved his head, blocking my view—it’s possible that the victor then staged a mock decapitation.

This is not particularly unusual behavior in the wrestling room. Last week, I encountered a cutthroat dodgeball game, with wrestlers heaving multi-colored playground balls at each other and coaches Cody Sanderson and Casey Cunningham in the middle of the fray. Cunningham was so fired up, he was yelling like a banshee.

So was David Taylor, the top-ranked 165-pounder, who assured me later that they were using the official rules of the “American Dodgeball Association of America,” and added, with a completely straight face, “The five Ds are really important.” (For those of you who, inexplicably, haven’t watched the comedy classic Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, that’s Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive … and Dodge.)

Taylor also assured me that playing games is an important part of the defending NCAA champions’ success. “The coaches do more than encourage that kind of thing,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “Look, Cody’s playing kickball out there right now.”

And for all that Cael Sanderson’s public demeanor is pretty serious, he’s got an occasionally hilarious Twitter feed and he is the guy who posted giant yellow smiley faces in the wrestling room leading up to last season’s NCAA tournament. (This week, signs simply say SMILE.) He wants his wrestlers to be prepared, but loose. (more…)

March 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm 3 comments

Finally, A Penn State Win over Iowa Wrestling

Morgan McIntosh tangles with Iowa's Grant Gambrill in this Mark Selders photo.


Three bouts into the wrestling team’s dual meet with Iowa on Sunday afternoon, the Nittany Lions had lost all three bouts, one by pin, and were down 12-0.  Surely some of the 6,796 fans—the largest crowd in Rec Hall since its reconfiguration—were having flashbacks to last year’s Iowa dual, in which Penn State lost the first three matches—one by pin—and never recovered from a 12-0 deficit.

So was coach Cael Sanderson worried?

“I know Cunningham was,” Sanderson said, using assistant coach Casey Cunningham as a comic foil, as he often does. “I was doin’ all right.”

Spoken like someone who had seven ranked wrestlers—including two guys at No. 1 and two guys at No. 2—coming up to the mat. But it was the guy ranked No. 12—197-pounder Morgan McIntosh, a true freshman—who clinched a 22-12 victory over the Hawkeyes.

McIntosh, facing Iowa junior Grant Gambrall, who finished third at NCAAs last season, got a takedown with 17 seconds remaining in the one-minute “sudden victory” overtime period for a 5-3 victory that gave Penn State insurmountable 19-12 lead with one bout to go.

The takedown also gave Sanderson his first dual-meet victory—as an Iowa State wrestler, Iowa State coach, or Penn State coach—over the Hawkeyes. And it gave McIntosh a loud, long standing ovation. “Coolest feeling I ever felt,” he said. “I’m not going to forget that for a long time.” (more…)

January 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

Wrestling Team Knows It Won’t Sneak Up on Anyone This Season

Senior Frank Molinaro, an NCAA runner-up last season, chats about how he improved in the off-season in this Penn State sports information photo.

It happened again the other day to senior Frank Molinaro, who was shopping at the Dollar Store a few miles from campus. When you’re short and you’ve got cauliflower ears and you’re wearing a Penn State wrestling shirt in Pennsylvania, you aren’t exactly incognito. You’re pretty easy to pick out as a member of the defending NCAA team champions.

“This little old lady … she was like 85 years old … she says she’s been watching wrestling for years, naming Andy Matter and all those guys,” Molinaro said yesterday, waving his arm at the 18 Penn State national champions whose pictures hang on the wall of the practice room at the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. (Junior Quentin Wright, No. 19, isn’t pictured on the wall yet.) “She saw my shirt and my ears and said, ‘Last year, I followed you.’”

Molinaro has repeatedly enjoyed such encounters since March, when the Nittany Lions became the first Eastern team to win an NCAA wrestling team title since 1953, so it’s easy to see how the team has become such a tough ticket.

Their dual meet against Iowa sold out—including standing-room tickets—90 minutes after single-match tickets went on sale. Their dual meet against Minnesota (coming up soon, on Sunday, Nov. 20) has only standing-room tickets remaining.

“These guys are a rare breed,” Coach Cael Sanderson said Monday afternoon at the team’s annual media day. “I think our fans and our sports understand that, and that’s why our season tickets are as high as they are and we have two matches sold out already. This is a fun team to watch. It’s not so much about whether they win, or not, it’s more about the fact that they’re entertaining. That is something I’m looking forward to. I can’t wait to just sit back and watch these guys go.”

Sanderson, of course, is somewhat of a rare breed himself, having spent his summer vacation training for the world wrestling championships after a seven-year break from international competition. He finished a disappointing fifth at worlds, and he said he’s not sure what’s next for his own competitive career. “For the most part, it’s all Penn State wrestling right now,” he said. “I’m not worried about my own wrestling career right now.” (more…)

November 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm 1 comment

Tough Day for Penn State’s Wrestling Team

It would have been pretty tough to jam more spectators into Rec Hall, as this photo by our editor, Tina Hay, shows.

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 (more…)

January 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm 4 comments

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