UNIVERSITY PARK - They raised the Big Ten Conference championship and the NCAA championship banners after a video of last season's Penn State wrestling highlights played on the big screens at a packed Rec Hall on Sunday afternoon.
Key members of the Nittany Lions were missing from the home debut with Lock Haven, including two-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth, who was suspended for a month for violating a team rule in the preseason, and the Alton twins, Andrew and Dylan, who are rehabbing from respective shoulder surgeries for an undefined time.
But, the top-ranked Lions have enough talent and depth that they can still win comfortably. Before a crowd of 6,498, they won eight of the 10 bouts, picking up bonus points in six of those bouts, and cruised to a 34-6 win.
"I thought the overall effort was good," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. "From here on out, we're looking for effort, and if they're putting a good effort in, we'll get good results. Even the two matches we lost, the effort was solid. That's kind of the foundation of everything else."
Two-time NCAA runner-up Nico Megaludis got the Lions (3-0) off to a roaring start with a 21-6 technical fall of Ronnie Perry at 125. PSU's Jordan Conaway gave up the initial takedown to Matt Bryer, but he went on to win, 10-5, at 133.
"I think I wrestled well. I think it took me a little bit to get a rhythm going," Conaway said. "I feel like for part of the match I was wrestling his type of match, but I think toward the end, I started to get my shots in."
Penn State freshman Zain Retherford continued his impressive first season with a 6-1 win over returning NCAA qualifier Dan Neff at 141. Retherford broke open a scoreless bout with a second-period escape and takedown, and he added a takedown and riding point in the third.
"I love watching Zain Retherford wrestle," senior returning NCAA runner-up David Taylor said. "I can tell he's going to be really good. Today, he showed something. The guy was in on a shot, he defended the shot and he was immediately into his takedown. That's when you can tell a guy is going to be really good."
Zack Beitz, who is filling in for Andrew Alton at 149, suffered PSU's first loss, 8-7, to Mac Maldarelli. The bout was tied 2-2, 5-5 and 7-7, but Maldarelli scored with 32 seconds left, and Beitz was unable to get the takedown late in the bout.
"He could have won that match," Sanderson said. "He has to get better at finishing shots."
James Vollrath, filling in for Dylan Alton, earned a 12-4 major decision over Billy Randt, scoring six points in the final period at 149, including two takedowns, an escape and riding time.
Sanderson said the Altons could be out until mid-December.
"You've got to figure out how would you bring them back," Sanderson said. "Do they get some open matches or what do you do? They're doing a nice job. They're both wrestling hard in practice now."
The Lions ran out their returning NCAA runners-up, Taylor and Matt Brown, at 165 and 174, respectively, in the next two bouts, and their was predictable domination.
LHU's Jake Kemerer, a former Penn State wrestler, was aggressive against Taylor, his old roommate, but the Lion senior was opportunistic, scoring points with various defensive moves to amass a 16-3 lead before putting Kemerer on his back with a bar-arm and half nelson and pinning him in 6:09.
"Jake is a strong, athletic kid," Taylor said. "He's got really explosive shots, so I kind of expected him to come out and shoot a few times. It was nice to have a guy come out and try to score."
Brown wore down freshman Adam Mackie, took a 13-3 lead into the third period, scored three nearfall points and the last two points on stalling calls for an 18-3 technical fall in 6:03 to give the Lions a 26-3 lead.
After LHU's Fred Garcia edged Ruth's replacement, freshman Wes Phipps, 3-1, the Lions finished off the dual meet major decisions from Logan McIntosh at 197 and Jimmy Lawson at 285. McIntosh outscored Phil Sprenkle 8-2 in the third period to win, 15-3, and Lawson notched two takedowns of Brad Emerick in the last 20 seconds to win, 14-4.
"I love coming up here," said LHU coach Scott Moore, a former Penn State wrestler whose team fell to 2-3. "I think it's great for our guys to come up here and exposing our guys to this great environment. It's a tough crowd, but life is tough, and we want our wrestlers to come in here and perform whether it's losing 6-5 or 13-3. It motivates them to do more."
125-Megaludis, PS, tech. fall Perry, 21-6, 7:00; 133-Conaway, PS, dec. Bryer, 10-5; 141-Retherford, PS, dec. Neff, 6-1; 149-Maldarelli, LH, dec. Beitz, 8-7; 157-Vollrath, PS, maj. dec. Randt, 12-4.
165-Taylor, PS, pinned Kemerer, 6:09; 174-Brown, PS, tech. fall Mackie, 18-3, 6:03; 184-Garcia, LH, dec. Phipps, 3-1; 197-McIntosh, PS, maj. dec. Sprenkle, 15-3; 285-Lawson, PS, maj. dec. Emerick, 14-4.
Records: Lock Haven (2-3); Penn State (3-0).