It has all the makings of a dynasty, although coach Cael Sanderson may never admit that is what his Penn State wrestling program is turning into.
The superstar coach has spent three full seasons in Happy Valley, and he is beginning to embark on his fourth campaign. He has already guided Penn State to two straight, convincing national titles.
Although Sanderson and his team cruised to those titles, there were roadblocks in the way. There were hardships, injuries, upsets, and disappointments throughout the course of a long season that made the ultimate goal of winning a championship so hard to reach.
It may be even harder to repeat the following season as champions. You have a target on your back all year, and every team in the country is gunning to take that title away.
But Penn State has taken the nation by storm the past two seasons by winning back-to-back titles, and the team begins this year ranked No. 1 by Intermat. Tonight, fans will get their first chance to see the 2012-2013 Nittany Lions in the team’s intrasquad dual beginning at 7 p.m. at Rec Hall.
This is a special team with a roster full of All-Americans and national champions. Some of the team’s stiffest competition this season will come against each other in tonight’s dual and during practices inside the wrestling room. That is what makes tonight so exciting for the fans and the team.
It is a roster, not just a starting lineup, loaded with talent and wrestling pedigree that other teams would kill to have.
Penn State lost only one wrestler from last year’s national title team to graduation in Frank Molinaro. The 149-pounder national champion will be a big loss to the Lions’ lineup.
Molinaro’s leadership may be the thing the team misses from him the most. Molinaro took freshman Nico Megaludis under his wing and mentored him. Megaludis finished the year as the national runner up at 125-pounds.
But Sanderson has gotten his team and recruiting to the point where he can reload his lineup each season with top-talent.
Megaludis begins the year ranked No. 2 at 125-pounds. He is set to avenge his loss in last year’s 125-pound national final Matt McDonough from rival Iowa. McDonough is ranked No. 1 in the weight class.
Andrew Alton is slated to fill the void in the lineup left by Molinaro. Alton is ranked No. 7 at 149-pounds to begin to season. He redshirted last season after posting a 30-10 record with 18 pins as a freshman.
Alton’s twin brother, Dylan, is set to wrestle right behind him at 157-pounds. Dylan went 30-6 last season and finished third at NCAA’s.
David Taylor is arguably the top-wrestler in the country. Taylor has lost just once in his Penn State career — in the national final his freshman year. The junior is the reigning 165-pound national champion, and but is ranked No. 2 behind Cornell’s Kyle Dake. The two will square off for the first time this season on Saturday at the NWCA All-Star Classic in Washington, D.C.
Matt Brown was not unable to crack the fulltime starting lineup last season, but is ranked No. 5 at 174-pounds to start this year. Brown wrestled between 174 and 197- pounds a year ago and posted a 27-2 record.
Defending national champion Ed Ruth will move up a weight from last year to wrestle at 184-pounds after claiming the 174-pound title last year. Ruth is ranked No.1 to begin the year.
Quentin Wright will also be moving up a weight. Wright was the 2011 NCAA Champion at 184-pounds and national runner-up at that weight a year ago. The senior will wrestle at 197-pounds and is ranked No. 2.
This team is fun to watch. Watching from the stands in a sold-out Rec Hall when Ruth slams his opponent to the mat to finish off a pin or witnessing Taylor toying with his opposition before he methodically puts them away is an impressive thing.
These guys can wrestle. They are so good at it that it is fun to watch no matter if you’re a lifelong wrestling fan or someone just wanting to experience something different.
Penn State wrestling has the potential to be a dynasty for a longtime now, whether Sanderson or his wrestlers want to admit it or not.
Timothy Schoen is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is the Collegian’s wrestling reporter.