Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wrestling Wreport

After a lackluster start to the Big Ten season the Penn State wrestling team was sitting at 1-3 in the conference and a No. 12 national ranking after slipping a couple notches. Facing the Lions was the business end of a double barrel dual meet weekend against No. 10 Northwestern and perennial Top 10 denizen Iowa - currently ranked 6th. After the dust had settled and the blood was cleaned up (literally) the Nittany Lions walked away winners of both and momentum going into the Big Ten tournament in a month.

A packed Rec Hall never looked so good

Not only did the Lions win, they pummeled Northwestern 25-8 and stunned Iowa 24-13. Not only was it a great team effort but several wrestlers served notice that they will make some noise on the national level. Both James Yonushonis and Phil Davis beat the No. 2 ranked wrestler at their respective weight classes. Davis thoroughly dominated Mike Tamillow of Northwestern by a score of 8-2 and the match wasn’t even that close. Tamillow almost gave into Davis’ cradle several times, but Phil couldn’t get any back points from his signature move. Not to be outdone, Aaron Anspach beat #4 Dustin Fox of NU and followed that up with a win over #6 Matt Fields of Iowa. Anspach is a shoe-in for Big Ten wrestler of the week with his performance this weekend.

Weekend Recap
The downward spiral continues for Mark McKnight as he lost to unranked Brandon Precin of NU and #12 Charlie Falck of Iowa. At this point it’s hard to put a finger on what has happened to Mark after such a strong start. McKnight was just about the only wrestler to take a step back this weekend. Hopefully the week off will help the staff figure out what is going on with Mark.

Another wrestler that seems to have lost some of his spark is Jake Strayer at 133. Jake did manage to beat #15 Mario Galanakis of Iowa but he looked flat against Eric Metzler of Northwestern a match against an unranked wrestler that only ended in a 7-2 regular decision when it could have been a major. Bonus points are very important especially early in a dual meet, and Jake is usually good at getting them. Like McKnight I’m hopeful that the week off will help recharge Strayer’s battery.

Without a doubt, the stunner of the weekend goes to Bryan Heller who pinned #6 Alex Tsirtsis of Iowa. Unranked Heller found himself down to Tsirtsis 2-1 after one period. Early in the second Tsirtsis got in on Heller and a mad scramble ensued with neither wrestler in control but Heller ended on top. Tsirtsis tried to roll through but Heller had the advantage and all his weight directly on top of Tsirtsis as his shoulders were completely flat on the mat. Without the benefit of the takedown, because Tsirtsis still had Heller’s leg, the Ref slapped the mat signifying the unthinkable and sent packed Rec Hall into a Mardi Gras-like frenzy. The six points really put Iowa behind the eight ball.

Yeah, the day kind of felt like this

Continuing to improve as the season goes on #15 Dan Vallimont notched two wins this weekend including a major decision over Vince Colletti of Northwestern. Vallimont did get into a little bit of trouble against unranked Alex Grunder of Iowa when he found himself tied 2-2 at the end of one and facing a riding time disadvantage of over two minutes. But like most strong wrestlers, Vallimont got a takedown in the second and erased the riding time advantage in the third before icing the match with a late takedown with 18 seconds in the bout to win 6-3 and keep the momentum going in the Iowa match.

Bubba Jenkins had an opportunity to put himself on the map when he faced fellow freshman Ryan Morningstar of Iowa who was ranked No. 17. Unfortunately, Jenkins was bothered by a leg injury early on and had injury time several times in the match. It’s not clear if it was a muscle pull or a problem with his knee, but Bubba didn’t have the strength to plant his feet to shoot and was barely able to finish the match. He gave up a major decision but the more important question is about his health. Hopefully the layoff will let him heal because the true freshman will get a lot of great experience in his first Big Ten tournament.

Against Northwestern Dave Rella posted a workmanlike 12-7 decision over Greg Hagel and needed to keep it close to No. 4 Mark Perry of Iowa. Most young wrestlers believe they can take on the world but it’s important to remember that it is, after all, a team sport and sometimes you are going to lose. While Rella is improving, he isn’t in Perry’s league just yet and it was important to only give up a regular decision and no bonus points. Rella did just that – he wrestled smart and kept Perry from the major. Late in the third with Perry leading 10-2 with two plus minutes of riding time, Rella reversed Perry and cut the lead below 8. Rella also nearly pinned Perry when he caught the Hawkeye on his back but it was too late as time ran out. While not winning, Rella kept Iowa from getting any bonus points and set up the chance for Yonushonis and Davis to ice the match.

When you face two good teams you want your big guns facing theirs and Penn State had that chance when James Yonushonis faced #15 Nick Hayes of Northwestern and #2 Eric Luedke of Iowa. Against Hayes, James was the aggressor but could not break his defense until :20 seconds were left in the bout when Yonushonis completed a thrilling single-leg takedown to win 3-1 and put Northwestern out of the match 19-3. The match against Luedke went almost exactly the same except neither wrestler could score a takedown and the match went into sudden victory overtime tied 1-1. This match was typical of Yonushonis who never seems to destroy his competition but always wears them down with his superior stamina and conditioning. With the Iowa match close at 12-10 and Davis waiting in the wings ready to face an Iowa freshman with a losing record, Yonushonis knew that a win would give Davis the chance to ice the match with a pin. In classic Yonushonis fashion, James produced the best shot of the match, snared Luedke’s right leg and completed the bout winning takedown just :13 into the extra period, again sending the packed crowd into hysteria. Now the table was set for Davis, no matter what happened at 184.

Brian Cantalupi was filling in for Mike Ward this weekend and it’s not clear why. There’s no word if Ward was injured but the senior got the call. Cantalupi gave up a technical fall to #1 Jake Herbert of Northwestern and and 8-2 decision to Phillip Keddy of Iowa but neither match mattered as Penn State had built enough cushion in both cases. Hopefully Ward isn’t seriously injured but his status is unknown.

As I said earlier Davis dominated second ranked Mike Tamillow of Northwestern which put that dual meet mathematically out of reach and Davis entered the Iowa match with the same opportunity. With Penn State up 15-13 and only one match remaining, a fall by Davis would put Iowa to bed. There was a TV timeout between 184 and 197 and Davis waited and the crowd buzzed as if everyone sensed the inevitable. On the other side of the mat stood Freshman Rick Leora with a 4-8 record. It was going to be gruesome. Before the TV timeout ended, Davis signaled to the Rec Hall MC to turn up his entry music, walked to the center circle, and stood like a starving Lion on the plains of the Serengeti staring down a wounded gazelle.

On second thought, maybe I'll forfeit

27 seconds in the overwhelmed freshman took a half hearted shot only to be countered and taken down. It was cradle time. Davis began twisting Leora into a pretzel, pummeling him with vicious cross-faces until the youngster succumbed and the lanky All American locked the cradle, flipped him over and ended Iowa’s day at 1:17 of the first. The Rec Hall crowd was even more pleased – that was it, Penn State had beaten Iowa for the second straight year.

As good as Davis and Yonushonis were, Aaron Anspach bettered both of them. Going into both of his bouts knowing the dual meets were locked up, Aaron could worry about the task at hand – beating two wrestlers ranked in the top six. Against No.4 Dustin Fox of Northwestern, Anspach countered two Fox shot attempts and converted to take a 4-1 lead after one. Giving up nearly 30 pounds to Fox, Anspach was simply quicker and more disciplined. The second and third periods were the same as the first, as Fox got in several times, only to be fended off by the quicker heavyweight. Two escape points were the only other scoring as Anspach held on to post an impressive 5-2 win.

Against #6 Matt Fields of Iowa, fans could sit back, relax, and hope for the sweet icing on the already delicious cake. It was more of the same for Anspach as he gave up size but was quicker then Fields. In the first, Aaron powered through a nice double leg takedown and held Fields down to take a crucial one minute riding time advantage before the Iowa wrestler escaped. Both wrestlers added escapes, but Fields could not come close to bringing Anspach down who posted a 4-2 win with the riding time point. Most Penn State fans didn’t know what to think of Anspach at the beginning of the season – I think he answered most of our questions this weekend.

Next Up
Penn State travels to take on Michigan and Michigan State the weekend of Feb. 16. Both teams are ranked but barely. The Nittany Lions need to finish off the dual meet season with two strong wins and get ready for the Big Ten Championships on March 3rd.


Black Shoe Diaries said...

Great report. That cradle almost looks cruel.

Galen said...

Thanks BSD.

Sunday was one of the greatest matches I've ever been to - the crowd, the excitement the closest thing I can relate it to is the Ohio State football game in '05; it felt like that. I still haven't got my voice back yet. Beating Iowa is like beating Michigan in football, if anyone remembers what that's like.