Penn State may have recently turned the wrestling world's attention on Pennsylvania with back-to-back NCAA Championships, but the depth of talent has defined the state for years.
That depth has been especially evident this season. Intermat currently has six Pennsylvania schools ranked in the top 35 with Penn State leading the way at No. 1 followed behind No. 14 Lehigh, No. 15 Edinboro, No. 17 Pitt, No. 28 Clarion and No. 31 Bloomsburg.
Bloomsburg head coach John Stutzman, who grew up wrestling in Delaware, simply defined Pennsylvania's crop as the best and noted the extent of the talent is unmatched by any other state.
“There's good kids whether you're in Delaware, whether you're in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, all across the country, there's great kids,” Stutzman said. “The difference is there are so many of them in this state.”
Stutzman said wrestling is a blue-collar type sport and Pennsylvania has the match of blue-collar type people with have kids that grow up wanting to wrestle.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said it is evident throughout the youth and high school level that wrestling is important to the state of Pennsylvania. Sanderson said he is happy to be a part of a wrestling culture like that and noted that some people come to Penn State wrestling matches, not because they are fans of the Nittany Lions, but because they are just fans of the sport.
The Lions' No. 1 Ed Ruth said Pennsylvania was up there on his list of the best wrestling states, but he would not give it the title of most talented.
Ruth also said there is no such thing as “Pa. style,” of wrestling because wrestlers compete the same across the country, but it helps to have it all wrapped up in one state.
“Being from this area, you kind of feel like you don't have to go to another area to find something that you have here,” the Harrisburg native said. “Usually, when you feel like everything is just kind of around this area, you trust kind of more in your own style.”
Quentin Wright said Pennsylvania was the No. 1 wrestling state by far because the wrestlers beat on each other, thus making them better. He joked that the talent level is elevated because of crazy parents.
New Oxford High School coach Dave Conaway, father of Penn State's Jordan Conaway, said he never wanted to push Jordan for wins and said he took a laid back approach with his son as his coach.
“There was a point where I would just stay away from him when he was done,” Dave said. “I felt like when he was ready to talk, he would come and see me.”
Jordan took on an extra load by wrestling at the club level in addition to his elementary and middle school programs while he grew up in Pennsylvania.
The Abbottstown, Pa., native said those youth programs helped him because they got him on the mat in the offseason in order to gain more experience need for the level of competition he sees today.
Wright said Pennsylvania wrestlers develop a friendship and respect for each other because of their skills and said it is fun for them to reflect back upon it.
“You know them and you become enemies for a while, but five years from now, when we're all graduated from college, we're going to be talking about our battles we had in college,” Wright said. “Even now, we talk about the battles we had in high school.”
No other Pennsylvania school has won a NCAA title aside from the Lions, but Pittsburgh has claimed two runner-up spots and Lehigh has one of its own. Bloomsburg has finished as high as fifth while Edinboro has taken sixth twice in the final NCAA polls.
Edinboro head coach Tim Flynn said the next step for his program is to win a team trophy, which is awarded to the four highest placing teams at the NCAA tournament. Flynn said he thinks the Fighting Scots are close to that goal, but they need to work to get more funding and compared his program to a fully funded one at Penn State.
“It's like you're playing basketball against a team that's got taller guys,” Flynn said. “It is what it is. You have to try to win anyway, so it doesn't bother me.”