Last year, Nico Megaludis had a Cinderella run during his own March tournament.
But the success he had — finishing second in the nation — was not enough, and the sophomore is eyeing first place again as he prepares for the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Considering he was a true freshman, Megaludis had quite the postseason last year.
After entering the 2012 Big Ten Championships seeded third, Megaludis finished in fifth place. It earned him a No. 10 seed in the national tournament, setting up a surprising run to the 125-pound finals.
Working his way to the national quarterfinals, Megaludis met No. 2-seeded Zach Sanders of Minnesota, who defeated him in the Big Ten semifinals. Megaludis got redemption and prevailed, 7-4.
Another win sent him into the finals against top-seeded and Big Ten champion Matt McDonough. The Iowa Hawkeye stifled Megaludis’ last attempt at an upset, though, and won the championship, 4-1.
Even though he performed better than most with his seed would have, the finish left a sour taste in Megaludis’ mouth.
“You do everything right the whole tournament and then, not that you screw up, but you get to the highest point but you don’t [win],” Megaludis said.
If Megaludis took anyone by surprise last season, though, he was not mistaken as an easier matchup for any opponent during the 2012-13 campaign.
Ranked highly throughout the year, he has compiled a 24-3 record (13-1 in duals). His 65 dual points for the Nittany Lions is only behind 165-pounder David Taylor and 184-pounder Ed Ruth, who earned 70 points each.
The success bumped him up to a No. 2 seed in this year’s Big Ten Championships. But once again, he fell in the semifinals. Illinois’ Jesse Delgado beat him 6-3 and then rolled to the title, 10-4, against McDonough. Megaludis ultimately settled for third place.
With the conference tournament in the past, Megaludis is traveling to Des Moines, Iowa for nationals as his weight’s fourth seed this time around.
If last postseason is any indication, though, the seed does not count him out of the first-place hunt. Megaludis realizes this, too.
For him, it is gold or bust.
“[Last year’s experience] makes me realize that I don’t want to stand on that second-place podium this year,” he said. “I know that when I go out on my ‘A’ game, I can beat anyone. I just got to do it for five matches.
“I won’t be happy if I get anything less than first.”
With McDonough seeded third and Delgado at No. 2, he would likely face one of the two if he makes it to the finals again.
But with such a tightly contested bracket — which includes undefeated and top-seeded Alan Waters of Missouri — Megaludis said he is not speculating too much over who will advance at 125 pounds.
“I think about that a little bit, not too much,” Megaludis said. “I know some guys that are good on my side. But I mean, it’s like everyone says, it’s the first guy in front of you [that matters].”
Despite a competitive field, Megaludis said he feels more confident this year compared to his freshman run. He said he feels better, more mature and ready to compete. He said he knows it’s a whole new tournament.
Coach Cael Sanderson said Megaludis just needs to continue to wrestle how he has to take first. He also pointed out that Megaludis’ freshman season has given him the confidence to run the table this time around.
“Confidence is everything, and just believing in your plan and your system,” Sanderson said. “You can see, just kind of feel his energy…He’s excited. This is what he loves to do, and he’s always been a guy that’s at his best at the big moments.”