UNIVERSITY PARK - Count Penn State redshirt freshman Wes Phipps as someone who is in favor of the elevated mat that was used for the Nittany Lions' highly anticipated match against Pitt at the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday.
"I thought it was sweet," Phipps said. "It's a lot like the NCAAs, and it makes a pretty sweet sound whenever you pick the guy up and slam him down on it."
The mat - resting on an NCAA Finals-like stage about 4-feet off of the floor with steps for the wrestlers to use to get to it - was just one of the highlights of the afternoon.
Mirror photo by Todd Irwin
An announced crowd of 15,996 on Sunday watched the Penn?State wrestling team beat Pitt at the Jordan Center.
Wrestling in a spotlight under the big video screen in a darkened arena before a sold-out BJC crowd of 15,996 - an NCAA record for a dual meet and about about 9,000 more than would be at Rec Hall - the second-ranked Lions won the last five bouts to beat the 23rd-ranked Panthers, 28-9.
"It's awesome," said 165-pounder David Taylor, who used an unorthodox move to pin former DuBois star Geno Morelli in 3:09. "As a kid, it doesn't matter what sport, you dream about doing it in front of a lot of people. There's not many opportunities you get to wrestle in front of your home crowd of 15,000 people."
"I just hope we wrestled an exciting enough style that made it worth everybody's time," PSU coach Cael Sanderson said, "but we really appreciate everybody coming out and supporting the team. That's a good deal. I think we can wrestle a little better, just more focused in what we're trying to do. I think our guys will get better as the season goes along, and that's something we feel our teams do."
Traffic snarls met attendees before and after the match, despite the anticipated snowstorm. The attendance record broke the previous mark of 15,955, which was set at Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Ohio State in 2008. It also broke the BJC record of 15,472, which was set at the Penn State men's basketball game against Purdue in 1997.
"I'm sure the record will get broken again in two weeks," Sanderson said, referring to his team's match at Iowa on Dec. 21, "so we'll have to break it again. But you're very limited on what the fire marshall will allow and all of those different things."
Phipps, by the way, wasn't the only Penn Stater who enjoyed the elevated mat.
"I loved it. I thought it was pretty awesome," said redshirt sophomore 197-pounder Logan McIntosh, who earned a 4-3 overtime tiebreaker win over Nick Bonacorsi. "Coach was telling us before it's good practice for the NCAA finals."
"How many times do you get to replicate what it's like to wrestle in the NCAA finals?" said Taylor, who has wrestled in the NCAA finals three times, winning once. "It was almost the exact same format of what it was like. For our guys who haven't been in the finals before, it's a great opportunity to see what it feels like to be on a stage where everybody is looking at you."
While Taylor won the Ridge Riley Award for the biggest win, Phipps' 13-3 major decision over Aaron Roswell cliched the dual meet win. Phipps, who had five takedowns, was filling in for two-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth, who returns this week after serving a month-long suspension for his DUI arrest.
"Ruth will be coming back here soon, so it was kind of my last little hurrah," said Phipps, drawing laughter from the media. "I just want to go out there on a big stage and have fun. The coaches said just go out there and score points. I just won a match in Boston doing the same thing."
"He's fun to watch," Sanderson said. "He's real strong. He picks guys up off the ground. The more experience he gets the better. It's one thing to get experience at Rec Hall, but this was just like the national tournament."
Another big win for the Lions was picked up right off the bat by third-ranked 125-pounder Nico Megaludis, who had split with ninth-ranked Anthony Zanetta in two previous bouts, but earned a 4-1 decision. An escape and takedown in the second period were the difference.
"I think Nico did a nice job," Sanderson said. "Zanetta is very tough, very tactical. I think Nico did a nice job of controlling the match, which is not easy to do against that kid."
The other No. 3 vs. No. 9 bout came at 174, where PSU's third-ranked Matt Brown earned an impressive 9-3 win over ninth-ranked Tyler Wilps.
The subplot in all of the pomp and circumstances was the Penn State-Pitt rivalry. The men's basketball teams just got to feel what the rivalry was like, but the clash on the mat might have been a little more personal for the Pennsylvania wrestlers on the teams. That includes Phipps, a Grove City grad who won a Class AA state title in 2012.
"If you're from Pennsylvania, you're probably going to get recruited by Penn State or Pitt," Phipps said. "You know a lot of the guys predominantly on each team are Pennsylvania guys, so you know who they are. You grew up watching them at states, so it's pretty cool to see these top-level guys in high school go on to top-level programs in college and battle it out again."
125-Megaludis, PS, dec. Zanetta, 4-1; 133-Mack, P, dec. Conaway, 5-2; 141-Retherford, PS, dec. Bright, 3-2; 149-Racciato, P, pinned English, 6:52; 157-Vollrath, PS, dec. Sheptock, 7-2.
165-Taylor, PS, pinned Morelli, 3:09; 174-Brown, PS, dec. Wilps, 9-3; 184-Phipps, PS, maj. dec. Rothwell, 13-3; 197-McIntosh, PS, dec. Bonacorsi, 4-3 OT TB; 285-Lawson, PS, dec. Tasser, 3-1.
Records: Pitt (3-1). Penn State (5-0)