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Feb. 15, 2011
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The third-ranked Penn State wrestling squad faced two conference opponents over the weekend and came away with one win and one tie in the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions hosted No. 20 Illinois on Friday night in front of a crowd of 5,117 spectators and downed the Illini 23-13. The team then headed on the road to Minneapolis where they faced No. 5 Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. Penn State tied the Gophers 18-18 as the two highly ranked squads battled it out.
With just one regular-season match left in the Penn State schedule, the Nittany Lions are now 16-1-1 overall and 5-1-1 in the Big Ten.
This past weekend the team met some of its toughest competition in conference wrestling and had to really rely on the talents of its most continually successful wrestlers.
On Friday night, the Nittany Lions picked up wins at six of the 10 individual dual bouts against the Gophers. For Penn State, No. 9 sophomore Andrew Long outlasted seventh-ranked Illini B.J. Futrell at 133 with a 9-6 decision and provided an entertaining and hard-fought match for Rec Hall onlookers to watch.
Long said that the win was a morale booster for him even though he doesn't particularly think much of the upset in numbers.
"You know I'm not big on rankings but they do help to establish the level of competition the guys are at and kind of where you're standing and just what you need to do to get better," said Long. "It shows where your conditioning is at with the top level of competition so it feels really good to get a win and even though the kid was good you know he has experience under him so, it feels good."
However, the Nittany Lions fell just shy of an upset in the next bout when No. 4 Illini Jimmy Kennedy topped No. 7 Andrew Alton at 141 in a 5-3 decision. Penn State went on to lose three more individual matchups, but closed out the match with a clutch Big Ten win.
Penn State saw more of the Big Ten's top wrestlers on Sunday as they faced the Minnesota Gophers, whose lineup consisted of six ranked individuals. This time, the highest-ranked wrestler at each weight class took home a victory for their team. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, this meant that they only won five of the ten bouts against Minnesota.
The match started off with a battle between Minnesota's No. 5 Zach Sanders and No. 11 Nittany Lion Brad Pataky at 125, where Sanders ousted Pataky in a 10-8 decision. Penn State also surprisingly fell at 141 and 184 as higher-ranked Gophers overpowered Alton and No. 13 redshirt sophomore Quentin Wright.
After the match on Friday night against the Illini, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson recognized the adversity his team has faced recently and said that he is definitely looking for some improvements.
"I mean we won some tough matches in there, lost a couple that we would have liked to have gotten obviously but it wasn't our best performance," said Sanderson. "Some of our guys didn't have the right look in their eyes and that's something we need to figure out but overall - it's part of the process here and we'll just keep trying to improve."
Keeping the Consistency
On the bright side, the Nittany Lions have been able to rely on several individual wrestlers to keep up the intensity and provide the spark that the team needs week in and week out.
These five wrestlers combine for just two losses overall this season in the Big Ten, Long and Wade each splitting one-a-piece. Molinaro is 24-2 overall this season and an unbeaten 7-0 in conference duals while Ruth boasts an almost perfect 28-1 overall record and is also 7-0 in the Big Ten. Taylor leads the team with an outstanding 30 wins this season and still no losses.
At the end of the match against the Illini on Friday night, Wade said that he was happy with the way he wrestled but said that he is still progressing.
"I think I hand-fought well on my feet and I wasn't giving up any easy takedowns or anything like that like I did the past week so I mean yeah I'm making steady improvements," said Wade. " We just have to keep fighting and go out there for seven minutes every week and get it done."
Against Big Ten competition, the No. 3 Nittany Lions have shown that hard work pays off but sometimes even the best fall against elite competition.