On a night where the stage was set for senior and local favorite Quentin Wright to pick up his 100th career win, redshirt freshman Jordan Conaway stole the show.
Conaway, unranked at the 133-pound weight class, took the mat for the third bout on the night against Wisconsin’s No. 3 Tyler Graff on Friday. After overcoming a 7-3 deficit in the third period to tie the match and force overtime, Conaway scored a takedown in the extra time for a sudden victory that electrified the sold out crowd at Rec Hall.
The Abbottstown, Pa. native said he knew Graff was getting tired and slowing down, so he kept applying the pressure to wear him out even more and he noticed he was getting easier takedowns in route to his win.
Conaway carried the momentum into his match against Purdue’s Danny Sabatello on Sunday and picked up a major decision victory for his second win of the weekend.
Although Conaway said he does not pay much attention to rankings, something he started before his collegiate career, junior David Taylor did not underscore the meaning behind Conaway’s victory against Graff.
“That’s a huge win for him for a guy that’s aspiring for that national tournament and needs that national tournament bid,” Taylor said after the Wisconsin dual. “That’s a big confidence booster and I’m really happy for him and I really hope that continues for him as we continue through these Big Ten duals.”
Head coach Cael Sanderson said the win against Graff was big for Conaway in terms of getting a wild card bid for the NCAA Championships, since Conaway is currently unranked. However, Sanderson said he would like to see Conaway earn his way and avoid the wild card process.
Taylor added that it was probably the biggest win of Conaway’s career, and one of the best Taylor has seen in his three years at Rec Hall. Taylor also said the crowd’s feeling when Conaway was losing in the third period was that Conaway was not going to just keep the match close, but that he was going to go out and beat Graff.
Sanderson also said Conaway’s victory came as no surprise.
“Yeah, it’s a big win for him, but he’s a great athlete,” Sanderson said. “He scrambles real well, he’s super quick around the corner, as you saw on those reshots, and he’s just starting to figure those things out.”
Conaway, who attended New Oxford High School where he racked up a 146-20 record, originally signed to wrestle for Liberty in November of his senior year.
However, Conaway received a call from Liberty head coach Jesse Castro in April and was informed that the Flames would be dropping their program. It is now offered as a club sport. Conaway looked around and found Penn State, which was coming off a National Championship.
“I wanted to wrestle in college, so that was no longer an option to go there,” Conaway said. “Just [with] the coaches here and the wrestlers, I figured, ‘I guess if I go there, I’ll get maximum potential if I want to.’ So that’s why I [chose] to come here.”
Conaway said he never envisioned going from signing with Liberty to becoming a starter on the No. 1 team in the country.
Wright, who said Conaway’s match with Graff reminded him of his freshman year, noted he will remember Jan. 18 as the night where he not only earned his 100th career victory, but also for witnessing Conaway’s win, too.
“He doesn’t realize it, but…by doing something like that, he’s now created a memory in 6,000 people that they will hold on to for the rest of their life, including me,” Wright said. “You get to relive that moment over and over and over.”