DES MOINES, Iowa - When the lights shine brightest, the Penn State wrestling team performs its best.
The Nittany Lions went 5-for-5 in the semifinals Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena to take control of the team race at the 2013 NCAA Div. 1 Wrestling Championships.
The two-time defending champs sent Nico Megaludis (125), David Taylor (165), Matt Brown (174), Ed Ruth (184) and Quentin Wright (197) into tonight's championship finals.
Taylor, Ruth and Wright are all seeking their second titles. Penn State is looking for a team three-peat. The Nittany Lions have 114.5 points and are in first place, ahead of second-place Oklahoma State (94), third-place Minnesota (86), fourth-place Iowa (68) and fifth-place Cornell (51).
Meanwhile, former Tyrone Area High School standout A.J. Schopp, the Edinboro sophomore 141-pounder, saw his chance at a finals berth dashed. No. 1 seed and defending champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State rolled up a 17-2 technical fall over Schopp in 7:00 in the semifinals.
"I don't think A.J. has anything to be ashamed of. That kid is a freak," Fighting Scots coach Tim Flynn said. "There's a lot of freaks that come through this tournament. Kyle Dake is an unbelievable wrestler and David Taylor. This kid's a physical freak."
Schopp earned his trip to the semifinals and his first All-America honor by avenging a loss from last year's NCAA tournament. He dominated fifth-seeded Nick Dardanes of Minnesota, 11-7 (a couple Dardanes late takedowns when the match was already decided made the final look closer than the match really was).
Schopp had lost to Dardanes in the second round last year, 7-3. Schopp had also defeated Dardanes in the NWCA All-Star Classic in November, 2-1.
Megaludis earned his second consecutive trip to the finals on the strength of 18 seconds of riding time in the second tiebreaker period for a 3-2 win over No. 1 seed Alan Waters of Missouri.
Regulation ended 1-1 with he and Waters both earning escapes. Neither could score in the first sudden victory or tiebreaker periods. After another scoreless sudden victory period, Megaludis chose bottom to start the second tiebreaker period and escape in three seconds. When it was Waters' turn to go down, it took him 21 seconds to escape. The 18-second difference gave Megaludis the win.
"Last year I expected to get to the finals but this year I just really, really expect it. I guess it's because I've been here already. I've been to this stage," Megaludis said.
Megaludis will meet Illinois' Jesse Delgado in the finals.
Taylor racked up his fourth consecutive pin, over Virginia Tech's Peter Yates in 3:24, to set up everyone's dream matchup, against three-time champion Kyle Dake of Cornell. Taylor pinned Illinois' Conrad Polz in :24 in the quarterfinals before pinning Yates.
"It's something that I think everyone's probably looked forward to all season. Mostly you guys. But it's something that doesn't happen very often, obviously, they're changing the event. Since I ever watched, there was never any other (order) to the finals," Taylor said.
"I'm kind of taking the role of the guy that's not supposed to win, which is weird for me. So I just have the next day to relax and I have nothing to lose out there. I'm just going for another national title and it's pretty simple, I just have to go out and score points."
Brown made a first-period takedown and escape hold up for a 3-2 win over Minnesota's Logan Storley. Brown beat Iowa State's Tanner Weatherman, 13-5, in the quarterfinals before avenging an earlier loss to Storley.
"I don't think anything's changed, but some of the bumps I took along the way helped expose some of the things I need to work on. Our coaches are excellent and they helped me figure that out. So it was a learning process," Brown said.
Brown earns a matchup with No. 1 seed Chris Perry of Oklahoma State.
Ruth beat Pitt's Max Thomusseit, 11-1, in the quarterfinals to set up his semifinal showdown with defending champion Steve Bosak of Cornell. Bosak slowed him down, but Ruth had enough for a 4-1 win. A quick first-period takedown proved huge.
"I definitely had to. I didn't know what to expect with what moves he'd be coming at me with. I just figured I'd get him first," Ruth said.
Ruth meets Lehigh's Robert Hamlin in the final.
Wright, like Megaludis, had to rely on riding time to win his semfinal match against Pitt's Matt Wilps. He had pinned Minnesota's Scott Schiller in the quarterfinals to get to the semifinals.
Against Wilps, regulation and the first sudden victory period ended with the score tied 1-1. Each wrestler escaped in the tiebreaker periods and they repeated the process. In the second set of tiebreakers, Wilps rode Wright for five seconds. Wright rode Wilps for eight and the three-second difference gave Wright a 4-3 win and a third trip to the finals.
He'll try to win his second title against Kent State's top-seeded Dustin Kilgore.
Four other Nittany Lions were eliminated earlier.
Jordan Conaway, the freshman 133-pounder, and returning All-American Dylan Alton (157) made it the farthest, each losing in the All-America round. Earlier Friday, Andrew Alton (149) and Bryan Pearsall (141) were eliminated.