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October 29, 2013The quest for Penn State's fourth title began Tuesday. Well, actually, official practice began Oct. 10, and the dual meet season doesn't start until Nov. 16. So one of those dates was/is the true opening of the season.
But Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions met with roughly 30 media members Tuesday in Penn State's wrestling room. On many topics -- such as the Alton twins' shoulder injuries, the starting lightweights, the Bryce Jordan Center dual, the heavyweight battle and blue-chip freshman Zain Retherford -- it's the first time Sanderson has publicly commented this preseason.
Without further ado, here's most of my notebook from the afternoon availability:
• First off, standing-room-only and Bryce Jordan Center (Dec. 8, vs. Pittsburgh) tickets went on sale this morning. And, to put it bluntly, it was chaos. Some BWI readers were on the phone for over an hour trying to get through to a representative. Some were successful; others were not. Tickets for Oklahoma State sold out within minutes, but tickets still remain for the BJC. Sanderson is urging wrestling fans throughout the state to attend this event.
"It's not an easy thing to do to get tickets into Rec Hall, to get a chance to see David Taylor (165 pounds) and Ed Ruth (184) -- two greats, not just Penn State greats but college wrestling greats," Sanderson said. "(With) a chance to see those guys at the BJC Dual, I believe people will take advantage of it. I think we can sell it out."
• No. 8 Andrew Alton (149 pounds) and No. 6 Dylan Alton (157) each tore their labrums (opposite shoulders) last season and had off-season surgery. Everyone today said that they're ahead of schedule in their recovery, and Sanderson estimated that they will return by January.
"They are ahead of schedule," Sanderson said. "Anytime that you have a major shoulder injury like that, that requires surgery, it takes time. They have both been doing a great job and I think they are a month ahead of schedule. They won't be wrestling for a while yet -- maybe December or January."
• Look for James English (149) and James Vollrath (157) to begin the season as starters, with Luke Frey as a dark horse candidate for 149. English and Vollrath are more than formidable replacements. Each have over 40 career victories, and expect to see rankings by their name after their first month of starting competition. In fact, at Penn State, the 149 and 157-pound starting spot is still technically an open competition.
"They're both seniors and have had some great wins throughout their careers," Sanderson said of English and Vollrath. "They'll do a great job. They're planning on being the starters, also"
• Sanderson has not officially named starters at 133 and 141, either, and he said he'll likely use the Binghamton Open to make up his mind. No. 11 Jimmy Gulibon, a redshirt freshman, is the expected starter, but returner Jordan Conaway, who fell one win shy of All-America status in 2013, is fighting hard for his spot and will not surrender it easily.
Redshirt freshman Zack Beitz, junior Nate Morgan and Retherford, a true freshman, are battling it out for the 141-pound spot. Retherford, the Intermat's No. 3 overall recruit and a world freestyle champ, might be too talented to keep off the mat.
Sanderson barely mentioned Retherford by name, but when asked about using a redshirt on him, Sanderson replied, "We aren't set on anything at this point. We are going to wrestle our best team this year."
• There was chatter over the off-season that No. 2 Nico Megaludis (125), a junior and two-time NCAA finalist, would redshirt this season. However, he and Sanderson silenced that today. After talking with Megaludis, he made it clear that redshirting was never an option in his mind, and his focus is at an all-time high. A television reporter asked if the two consecutive runner-up finishes are a motivating factor. Megaludis cracked a sideways smile, and replied, "Little bit." And onto the next question.
"When I think of how it felt (to lose)," he later added, "I just think of how much better it will feel when I get my hand raised this year."
• There is still a battle for the 285-pound starter. No. 10 Jimmy Lawson, a junior who qualified for NCAAs last season, garnered the preseason ranking, but he is still not guaranteed to be the full-time starter. Junior Jon Gingrich is Lawson's primary challenger. Gingrich went 14-6 last year, including two wins over top-10 opponents. He also won two of the three wrestle-offs vs. Lawson, but Sanderson said "a coaches' decision" was made before the post-season in which they chose Lawson over Gingrich. Nick Ruggear, a junior and former 197-pounder, has also beefed up quite a bit and Sanderson said he could challenge for the starting heavyweight spot, too.
"It's been a while since any of those three have competed, so we will see where they are at," said Sanderson. "We see them in practice all the time, but we want to see them on the mat."
• Sanderson gave props to big brother and associate head coach Cody Sanderson for his scheduling efforts this off-season. On PSU's side, Cody is responsible for arranging the BJC match and booking Oklahoma State (Feb. 16). Penn State will also visit Boston University (Dec. 6), a program that was floundering on nonexistence a year ago.
The scheduling quirks, however, have come with a cost. There will be no Penn State Open this year, but they left it open for return in the future. There also will be no "Blue-White" Intrasquad Dual. Instead, Sanderson will use early season open tournaments to decide upon the undetermined weight classes.
• Media days are often hectic, which often makes it tough to get anything but generic quotes from the wrestlers. But today, I had a chance for a couple good conversations with top-ranked Taylor and Ruth. As I wrote in my preseason column, this marks their last season competing for Penn State, and people need to treasure it.
Time flies. Taylor agreed that it's hard for him to believe that its his fifth year already, and he emphasized that the last home match of the season (Clarion, Feb. 23) will likely be a difficult one for him. He loves Rec Hall, and Rec Hall loves him. But we also talked about his next endeavor.
He said he has already begun his four-year plan, which ends with an Olympic gold medal in 2016. But after that, he seems pretty serious about pursuing a career in coaching. We talked about the recruiting aspect -- he's already putting his skills to work for Penn State's current recruiting class -- and how "building a team" is an appealing part of the job. Ideally, he said, he would return "home" for a position with the Nittany Lions. And, according to high school coaches who have hosted him as a camp counselor/coach, Taylor certainly has the knack for coaching and the ability to relate and explain technique to younger wrestlers.
Ruth said a lot of the younger wrestlers drill he and Taylor for advice, picking apart at their wrestling wisdom, and the fifth-year seniors welcome it. "I didn't do that kind of stuff when I was that age," Ruth said. "I was an angry freshman, getting beat up all the time."
Taylor said whether it's encouraging future recruits to choose PSU, or simply explaining his half nelson to an underclassman, it's all part of the legacy that he hopes to leave at PSU. "I just hope its contagious," he said.
Sidenote: I asked Taylor if he had heard FloWrestling.com analyst Christian Pyles' prediction that Talyor "is going to pin or tech fall everybody but (Oklahoma State's) Tyler Caldwell this year."
Taylor said he hadn't seen the video, but that it is definitely his goal. Said the 165-pounder, "That's what I have in mind."
• Speaking of legacy. Quentin Wright, a two-time national champ and three-time finalist, was in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex, training with Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner before media day. He's always a joy to talk to, and he wanted to pass along that he and his wife, Lauren, had a baby boy this summer. His name is Breyton.
All rankings via IntermatWrestle.com
Full Cael Sanderson press conference video:
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