OKLAHOMA CITY -- The first two days of the 2014 NCAA Championships are in the books, but the race for the team crown appears to be just heating up.
Penn State continues to hold the lead after four sessions of tournament action. However, second-place Minnesota trails by only 0.5 point while third-place Oklahoma State trails by 3.5. With consolation action beginning Saturday morning at 11:00 (ET) and the final round on ESPN at 7:00 p.m., Saturday is shaping up to be a dramatic conclusion to a topsy-turvy tourney.
"This is the national tournament," 165-pound David Taylor said. "Guys aren't going to lay down and take it easy. They're going to fight and they're going to try to win."
Taylor and 184-pound Ed Ruth are Penn State's only two finalists, but 125-pound Nico Megaludis, 141-pound Zain Retherford and 174-pound Matt Brown are still fighting for third place. 149-pound James English and 197-pound Morgan McIntosh, meanwhile, will wrestle for seventh place Saturday morning. All seven secured All-America honors for the Nittany Lions, with Retherford, English and McIntosh all earning the first of their careers.
Ruth, now a four-time All-American, captured a spot in his third-consecutive NCAA final with a rubber match victory over Cornell redshirt freshman Gabe Dean, 5-3. It was perhaps the mostly highly anticipated bout of the semifinal round.
"He's a solid wrestler on his feet," Ruth said about Dean. "He keeps pushing the pace. Even when he's tired, he's pushing it to me. I'm not really used to that. When somebody does it, it makes the match more exciting for both of us."
With a matchup vs. No. 1 seed Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland Saturday, Ruth has the opportunity to become the first three-time NCAA champ in Penn State's storied history. But, customary to Ruth's style and personality, he's not putting much emphasis on his place in history yet.
"It's a good thing to make history, but I try not to think about that too much," he said. "History writes itself, as long as you keep doing what you're supposed to do."
Taylor, too, has secured a spot in Penn State history as he is now tied for the most falls (53).
"That's something that has been in the back of my mind a little bit this year," Taylor said, "but at the same time, getting my hand raised tomorrow night is my No. 1 priority."
Taylor will draw four-time All-American Tyler Caldwell, who Taylor beat 5-2 during the dual meet Feb. 16. It was the only match of Taylor's senior season in which he did not score bonus points.
"I think a lot of people, they're scared to wrestle him," Caldwell said of Taylor. "I'm not afraid to get out there and scrap with him, make it a fight. I've closed the margin. I've wrestled him three times now in my collegiate career. And each time I've closed the gap quite a bit -- not even on the scoreboard, but just in the match pace. I've felt like I've really closed the gap. And since the last time wrestling in February, I think I've made even bigger strides and look forward to wrestling tomorrow night."
While Taylor and Ruth enjoyed success during the semifinal round, teammates Megaludis and Retherford each suffered heartbreaking losses. Megaludis dropped a close 6-4 decision to Cornell's Nahshon Garret, but he nearly scored a match-tying takedown with less than :15 remaining in the final period. Despite the pleas from the Penn State fan section, the referee controversially did not award Megaludis the tying takedown. Two weight classes later, Retherford dropped a rubber match with Ohio State national champ Logan Stieber, 7-3.
"They both gave up couple takedowns in the fist period and against tough opponents, that's tough to come back (from)," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "Nico did a great job to give himself a chance to win at the end there; he just couldn't finish his shot. We need both of those guys to come back strong tomorrow because it's gonna be a big part of the team race."
Although English and McIntosh both dropped to the seventh-place bout, their efforts have been crucial to the team score, too. English, especially, has been a boost to the team's morale.
"I was very happy to see him get his hand raised there in the blood round," Taylor said about English. "Because there's a lot of blood and sweat that he has put into this sport to get his hand raised and to be top eight in the country."
English a sixth-year senior who has battled various injuries since his senior season of high school, said he still isn't injury-free. But earning All-America honors for the first time in his career has made the pain that he's wrestled through during nationals worthwhile.
"It's a brutal tournament," said English. "When I get out there and the adrenaline is going I'm OK, but in between warming up it's definitely hard. But this is it for my career. I can recover the whole rest of my life."
Heading into tomorrow's final round, both Penn State and Minnesota have seven wrestlers competing, but each only have two finalists. Meanwhile, third-place Oklahoma State has four finalists with only one other wrestler in the consolations.
125: No. 3 Nico Megaludis
- over Darian Cruz (Lehigh), 18-3 TF
- over No. 14 Ed Klimara (Oklahoma State), 6-0
- over Jarrod Patterson (Oklahoma), 6-0
- defeated by No. 2 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell), 6-4
Next match: No. 8 Cory Clark (Iowa)
133: Jimmy Gulibon
- defeated by No. 4 Jonathon Morrison (Oklahoma State), 4-0
- over Vincent Pizzuto (EMU), 10-2 MD
- defeated by No. 14 Zane Richards (Illinois), 4-3
141: No. 3 Zain Retherford
- over Ugi Khishignyam (Citadel), 5-0
- over No. 14 Edgar Bright (Pitt), 3-0
- over No. 11 Joey Lazor (UNI), 5-2
- defeated by No. 2 Logan Stieber (Ohio State), 7-3
Next match: No. 1 Mitchell Port (Edinboro)
149: James English
- over No. 12 Dyllan Cottrell (App State), 5-4 (OT)
- defeated by No. 5 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern), 4-3
- over Christian Barber (UNC), 3-1
- over Rylan Nubeck, 4-3 OT
- over No. 10 Zach Neibert (Virginia Tech), 6-4 OT
- pinned by No. 8 David Habat (Edinboro), 4:52
Next match: No. 4 Kendric Maple (Oklahoma) - 7th/8th place
157: No. 13 Dylan Alton
- over Brian Murphy (Mich), 5-1
- defeated by No. 4 Ian Miller (Kent State), 4-1
- over Immanuel Kerr-Brown (Duke), 5-2
- defeated by Luke Smith (Central Michigan), 4-2 (OT)
165: No. 1 David Taylor
- pins Joe Brewster (SDSU), 2:58
- pins No. 16 Jim Wilson (Stanford), 6:55
- pins No. 8 Michael Moreno (Iowa State), 1:19
- No. 4 Steven Monk (NDSU), 13-5 MD
Next match: No. 2 Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State) - 1st/2nd place
174: No. 5 Matt Brown
- over Kyle Meyer (Stanford), 17-4 MD
- over No. 12 Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State), 6-1
- defeated by No. 4 Mike Evans (Iowa), 5-4 OT
- over No. 16 Matt Miller (Navy), 10-6
- over Bryce Hammond (Cal State-Bakersfield), 9-3
Next match: No. 6 Logan Storley (Minnesota)
184: No. 2 Ed Ruth
- pins Jackson Hein (Wisconsin), 1:59
- over Lazarus Reyes (Illinois), 15-0 TF
- over No. 7 Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota), 10-2 MD
- over No. 3 Gabe Dean (Cornell), 5-3
Next match: No. 1 Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland) - 1st/2nd place
197: No. 3 Morgan McIntosh
- over John Bolich (Lehigh), 5-0
- defeated by No. 14 Chris Penny (Virginia Tech), 3-2
- over No. 13 Dan Mitchell (American), 15-7 MD
- over Cory Reed (Binghamton), 13-4 MD
- defeated by Kyveon Gadson (Iowa State), 5-3
Next match: Nate Burak (Iowa) - 7th/8th place
285: No. 14 Jon Gingrich
- over David Devine (SIUE), 12-4 MD
- defeated by No. 3 Adam Chalfant (Indiana), 5-2
- pinned by Ross Larson (Oklahoma), 2:03
Session IV Team Scores
1. Penn State - 91.0
2. Minnesota - 90.5
3. Oklahoma State - 87.5
4. Iowa - 67
5. Ohio State - 52
6. Edinboro - 48.5
7. Cornell - 46.5
8. Virginia Tech - 45.5
9. Oklahoma - 45
10. Illinois - 37