Junior Ed Ruth said the atmosphere in Rec Hall is so powerful that it can take a person over.
“You could be the most quiet person, but as soon as you step into Rec Hall, you’re just like everybody else that’s in Rec Hall,” Ruth said. “You’re yelling. You’re screaming.”
Before the 2012-2013 wrestling campaign officially started, the Nittany Lions sold out their home season in advance for the first time in school history. Now that the home schedule has concluded, the Lions hosted crowds of more than 6,000 at every dual this year in Rec Hall, which holds a maximum of about 6,600 for wrestling duals.
Senior Bryan Pearsall, who pinned Rider’s Rob Cigna in his final match in Rec Hall, said the setting is simply electrifying.
“When the crowd gets going, it really gets your blood flowing,” Pearsall said. “You feel the energy from the crowd pulsing through you. It really gives you a lift up.”
Pearsall said Carver-Hawkeye Arena and St. John Arena, where the Iowa and Ohio State wrestling programs call home, respectively, are the only other venues aside from Rec Hall that have a home mat advantage.
The advantage was noted earlier in the season when then-unranked Jordan Conaway took on No. 3 Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. Conaway trailed Graff by as many as four points in the third period of the bout, but Conaway battled back to tie it before winning by sudden victory in overtime.
The redshirt freshman said it helped that the Rec Hall crowd noticed he was picking up the pace and control in the match en route to his upset win.
Junior David Taylor said after the Wisconsin dual that people may take for granted how “awesome” of a place Rec Hall is to wrestle in and Conaway’s match showed how supportive the fans are.
“There’s not many times when you’re wrestling a guy when you’re down by three, four points when you feel like you’re going to win and I think everyone in Rec Hall thought he was going to win the match,” Taylor said. “...I think that definitely gave Jordan quite an edge.”
Lock Haven head coach Robbie Waller, who led his Bald Eagles into Rec Hall for a dual meet Dec. 15, said the building is one of the most exciting wrestling venues on a college campus today.
“As a coach, you try to communicate what your athletes can expect in an environment like Rec Hall,” Waller said, “but they, as individuals, must still experience it and rise to the occasion.”
Others have noticed the energy levels at Rec Hall and Pearsall said he knows other Penn State sports have brought recruits in to home duals to see the support the wrestling fans give the Lions.
Ruth said he sees Rec Hall as a valuable recruiting tool because the packed bleachers make wrestling seem celebrated at Penn State.
“A lot of people are going to say, ‘Hey, I want to wrestle for a crowd like that with that much support and that much attention on me,’ ” Ruth said.
In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 1 dual at Carver-Hawkeye, many wrestlers noted the difference between Rec Hall and Iowa’s intense facility was largely attributed to the set up of the venues.
Although Carver-Hawkeye can hold nearly 9,000 more spectators than Rec Hall, Pearsall noted that it is more spread out rather than the condensed feeling of the Lions’ home.
Pearsall said he would rather have the fans packed in tight in a small facility rather than a spread out one and compared Carver-Hawkeye to if the Lions were to compete in the Bryce Jordan Center.
The idea of moving home matches to the BJC, much like the Penn State basketball teams did in 1996, has been discussed preliminarily, head coach Cael Sanderson said.
Although Sanderson said Rec Hall’s atmosphere is as intense as any in the nation, he also said his staff is all about progress and time will tell if that is the future for Penn State wrestling.
Sanderson also said the attendance is a big factor and it would take a marquee opponent like Iowa, Minnesota or Oklahoma State to sell 15,000 tickets, but the team does not know if it can do that at this point with current $6 ticket price.
“I think after our price goes up to what it should be, we’ll get a better feel for where we are as far as attendance,” Sanderson said. “It’s the cheapest ticket as far as value is concerned in the country. You can’t even see a movie for $6.”