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March 3, 2011
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State wrestling squad will travel to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon in preparation for the 2011 Big Ten Wrestling Championships, which begin Saturday.
The Big Ten Championships are a challenge that the Nittany Lions have been getting ready to face from the first day of the 2010-'11 season. It is a weekend of rivalries and upsets, and most importantly a maker of champions.
Penn State heads into the tournament with a number of high pre-seeds, including top-rankings for five individual Nittany Lion wrestlers. Sophomore Andrew Long holds the top spot at 133, redshirt junior Frank Molinaro is No. 1 at 149, redshirt freshman David Taylor is top-ranked at 157, Ed Ruth is the top seed at 174 and Cameron Wade is seeded No. 1 at heavyweight.
As a team, the Nittany Lions have high expectations for themselves against their conference opponents. Garnering a 17-1-1 dual season record this year, the team feels as though it has a good idea of the competition that they will be up against this weekend.
However, the Nittany Lions know that in a tournament like this nothing is predictable. Taylor said that regardless of seeds and ranks, anything can happen on the mats of the Big Ten when every wrestler is fighting for the same prize.
"[Seeds] don't really mean a whole lot," said Taylor. "They help, being a good seed definitely does help, but you've still got to go out and wrestle. You can be an eighth seed and be in the finals and you can be not seeded and make it into the finals. At this time in the season everyone, no matter who they are or what seed they are, they're going to come out and throw the most at you so you've got to be ready for all the guys."
With an unbeaten 31-0 overall record this season and an 8-0 Big Ten mark, Taylor said that he especially expects his opponents to come out swinging.
"All of those guys that I wrestled this year are just going to want to come back and obviously they're going to do similar things," said Taylor. "They're going to try and slow the pace down and keep me from getting my offense going so I've just got to be patient and just keep the pressure on them the whole time. Obviously, I want to be a Big Ten champ."
Top-seeded Molinaro has similar goals for himself this weekend, as a returning two-time All-American with a fourth-place conference finish last year.
"I expect a lot out of myself so, I don't want to put too much pressure on myself but I'm taking every match like it's my last one in the tournament," said Molinaro. "I'm going to have that attitude from the first round to the last round."
The redshirt junior also said that he anticipates a bit more buzz around the Nittany Lions at this year's tournament, as some might say they are the team to beat.
"I think it's a little bit different because I think the expectations are a bit higher," said Molinaro. "We've been ranked No. 1 and been in the top five for most of the year so I think we expect to win and we don't just want to win this year, we really expect to win. We'd be disappointed if we didn't."
Among the other five Nittany Lions that will be a part of the Big Ten tournament line-up, senior Brad Pataky is the No. 4 seed at 125 and is excited to take one last run at the conference title.
"It's been a long process," said Pataky. "Being the last one it's going to be the best one I think. It's going to be fun. I can't hold anything back and I have to have fun doing it."
The lone veteran said that his knee is still recovering from an early season injury, but he is not worried about it getting in the way of his success. Pataky said that his experience in the conference may be helpful, but will not assure him a victory.
"At this tournament it's really hard to say that tenure helps because you see so many guys get upset," said Pataky. "But having been there for a few times I think I do have a little bit of an upper hand on some of the other guys but you've just got to take every match like it's the same. You know you can't overlook anybody and you can't under look anybody."
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson will be taking part in his second postseason with the Nittany Lions and will be satisfied with nothing less than the championship crown.
"You always want to win, we want to win there's not question about that," said Sanderson. "I mean that's what they hired me to come to Penn State to be a part of, so we want to win a conference title. You know obviously the big picture is national championships but to be able to be national champions you need to be able to win conference championships so it all goes hand in hand."
Sanderson echoed his wrestlers and added that this weekend presents the same challenge the team has faced all season with a more specific goal in mind.
"Really our focus hasn't changed much," said Sanderson. "It doesn't change even when you get to the postseason, you've got to focus on what you can control and wrestle with some passion and want it more than your opponent. If you do those things and you fight for it and if we do those things we know we have a good chance."
The Nittany Lions took an impressive fifth-place last year at the Big Ten Tournament, but are aiming only for the first-place spot on the podium this weekend.
The finals, which will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, will air live on the Big Ten Network. For more information on the conference tournament and updates on Penn State's progress this weekend, stay tuned to GoPSUSports.com.