If the traffic jam at North Atherton Street and Park Avenue didn't give it away Friday night, then the 6,422 fans who funneled into Rec Hall probably did. It's that time of the year again: wrestling season.
The hottest ticket currently on Penn State's campus, the winners of back-to-back NCAA Championships rolled out the mats for the first dual meet of the year. Facing No. 24 Lehigh, the Nittany Lions won eight of the 10 bouts - two by technical fall and one by major decision - in a 29-6 rout of the visiting Moutainhawks. Head coach Cael Sanderson said he was pleased with the results from his squad but still found room for improvement.
"Overall, I think our guys wrestled well," Sanderson said to open the post-meet press conference. "Lehigh is a well-coached team, and they're solid through the whole lineup. But it definitely looked liked the first match of the year out there. We looked a little flat. We need to get a little more fire and just sharpen the sticks a little bit."
Sophomore 125-pounder Nico Megaludis, a national finalist a season ago, got things rolling for the 2012-13 campaign by scoring 18 points in the first two periods en route to a 19-4 technical victory. The next three Nittany Lion wrestlers each picked up decisions before All-American sophomore Dylan Alton, ranked No. 2 in the country, fell to No. 13 Joey Napoli, 4-2. The Nittany Lions picked up the next four consecutive victories before Jon Gingrich fell in the heavyweight match to Jack Delia.
In all, Penn State posted 28 takedowns to Lehigh's six.
Most Anticipated Match - Although Ed Ruth had already beaten Robert Hamlin, a national finalist and two-time All-American, in an exhibition over the summer, everyone had the battle between No. 1 Ruth and No. 3 Hamlin highlighted at 184 pounds. "That could very easily be the national finals match," Sanderson said.
If that's the case, Ruth will be hoping for similar results, but maybe a little less "sloppy", as Sanderson put it. Ruth jumped out to a 9-4 lead and looked like he would cruise to victory, but a couple loose moments allowed Hamlin to pick up two third-period takedowns. A possible third takedown nearly tied the match, but Ruth was able to fend it off and hang on for the 11-9 victory.
"[Ruth] started out incredible," Sanderson said. "He's so good that he can get a little sloppy and he got a sloppy there, and you can't be sloppy with a guy like Robert Hamlin. He's going to make you pay for it because he's tough and is good in all positions. He's in good shape so you need to continue to be sharp through the match."
Best Move - In his first official bout in Rec Hall, 133-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Conaway found himself in a 1-1 tie with :43 on the clock. Looking to push the pace, Conaway shot in for a takedown but was knocked off balance. Laike Gardner, his opponent and childhood friend, countered with a shot of his own, but Conaway regained his balance, defended the takedown attempt and slipped behind Gardner for the bout-winning takedown as the sold-out crowd erupted. Gardner's escape in the waning seconds weren't enough to even the score as Conaway held on for the 3-2 debut victory.
"I think Jordan wrestled well," Sanderson said. "He found a way to win. It's a lot easier to build confidence off success, and I think heâ€™s gotta figure things out a little bit. Heâ€™s not the biggest 33-pounder, but heâ€™s very skilled and he has excellent conditioning. So he just has to figure out how to put those things together."
Biggest Surprise - Alton's loss to Napoli certainly caught the reporters in press row off guard. In a rematch of the 2009 Pennsylvania state finals - a match Alton won - Napoli rode Alton for the duration of the third period. Napoli finished with 2:35 in riding time and a 4-2 victory.
Did you notice? - In the press room after Penn State's win, Sanderson said the starting spots at 133 and 285 are not set in stone. He said Nate Morgan will likely wrestle in place of Conaway at 133 and newcomer Jimmy Lawson will start in place of Gingirch at 285 when Penn State travels to West Virginia for a dual meet Sunday.
"We don't like to keep rotating kids back and forth, but we also want to make sure kids have a fair chance to make the team," Sanderson said. "So we felt like Gingirch earned the opportunity to wrestle tonight after winning a tournament [Binghamton Open] this weekend. We'll wrestle Lawson on Sunday, and right now Conaway and Nate Morgan, we're going to switch them this weekend, too."
No. 1 Penn State 29, No. 24 Lehigh 6
November 16, 2012 - Rec Hall - University Park, Pa.
125: No. 2 Nico Megaludis PSU tech fall Alex Abreu LU, 19-4 (TF; 5:07)
133: Jordan Conaway PSU dec. Laike Gardner LU, 3-2
141: Bryan Pearsall PSU dec. Anthony Salupo LU, 7-6
149: James English PSU dec. No. 18 Shane Welsh LU, 5-2
157: No. 13 Joey Napoli LU dec. No. 2 Dylan Alton PSU, 4-2
165: No. 2 David Taylor PSU tech fall Eric Hess LU, 20-5 (TF; 5:46)
174: No. 4 Matt Brown PSU maj. dec. #18 Nathaniel Brown LU, 12-1
184: No. 1 Ed Ruth PSU dec. No. 3 Robert Hamlin LU, 11-9
197: No. 3 Quentin Wright PSU dec. John Bolich LU, 10-4
285: Jack Delia LU dec. Jon Gingrich PSU, 5-3
Records: Penn State 1-0, 0-0 Big Ten; Lehigh 1-1
Up Next for Penn State: at West Virginia, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2 p.m.