Frank Molinaro clearly stated his goal going into the NCAA Tournament: Become an All-American.
The redshirt freshman said he went into this weekend's tournament in St. Louis with a different mindset than he had all year long. Throughout the regular season, he has held himself up to high expectations and hadn't performed well, or "failed," as he described it. He had a 19-16 regular season mark along with a 2-14 record against the tournament field.
This weekend, he didn't have any expectations for himself, he just wanted to have fun and leave everything he had out on the mat. The result was achieving his goal of attaining All-American status with an eighth-place finish at the 141-pound weight class.
"It's such a relief, it's like I saved my season," Molinaro said. "It's been a long year, I feel like everything finally clicked. Even in the matches that I lost, I still felt like I wrestled extremely well. I have that confidence back now and I feel that I'm only an inch away from dominance."
Molinaro and fellow freshman Quentin Wright became All-Americans this weekend for the Nittany Lions as they finished 17th overall at the 2009 NCAA Wrestling Tournament. Wright finished sixth and became the first Nittany Lion true freshman to be an All-American since 1998, when Jamar Billman accomplished it.
While 17th isn't what the team was striving for coming into the postseason tournament, the potential was there for a higher finish, Molinaro said.
"It's not a matter of us getting outgunned, we just have to get it done," he said. "We had four guys in the round of 12, so a couple things didn't go our way."
Junior Dan Vallimont and senior Jake Strayer finished their seasons one win away from All-American status. Strayer was disqualified in the final match of his life, after the officials said he used an illegal leg tilt from the top position. Molinaro called the circumstance "a disgrace."
Despite the hardships for his teammates, Molinaro was pleased with his wrestling this weekend. He said it was a lot easier to wrestle without putting pressure on himself. It allowed him to wrestle his style of wrestling, which led him to an upset of No. 12 seed Drew Lashaway from Kent State, the win that secured All-American status. Molinaro wrestled back after losing to championship runner-up Ryan Williams of Old Dominion in the first round.
Many of Molinaro's family and friends travelled to St. Louis to watch him perform, and he said it meant a lot to share his success with his loved ones. He said standing in the center of the mat for the annual All-American ceremony with the rest of the celebrated wrestlers was an awesome feeling.
"It was great just because with my family, whenever I'm down in the dumps they're down in the dumps," Molinaro said. "It was nice to finally all smile at the end of the season. There's been a lot of bad memories, so to wash it all away with being an All-American, it kind of washes it all away and leaves it on a good note."
He also added the All-American performance will let some of the pressure off of him as he trains for next season, because he knows what it takes to get to the podium and what the grind is like. As he watched the championship match between Ohio State's J Jaggers and Williams on Saturday, he said it made him want to get back to State College and start training right away. Molinaro beat Tyler Nauman, who only lost to Jaggers, the national champ, by one.
So Molinaro is not satisfied with his performance -- he's one step away from wrestling for a championship.
"I literally think I'm inches away from beating anyone," Molinaro said. "Honestly I feel good about saying that too. I think I could actually beat anybody and I feel like I belong on the mat with anybody."