Ex-Lion wrestler Taylor earns world team spot

UNIVERSITY PARK — Former Penn State wrestler David Taylor has attempted to make the USA freestyle team for quite some time since graduating.

Every time, he came up short.

Saturday night, it was a different story for the Nittany Lion great as he competed in Rec Hall for the first time since 2014.

“Thank you for supporting me all the time when I fell down,” Taylor said to the crowd after securing his United States team spot. “I’m going over to Budapest, and I’m going to be a world champion. I’m coming back here with a gold medal.”

Taylor was one of six wrestlers to earn the right to represent the United States in the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in October.

He made it look easy, too, against Nick Reenan in their 86-kilogram best-of-three series.

In the first match, Reenan scored a takedown of Taylor 22 seconds into the match. Even though Taylor said it wasn’t a wake up call, it sure seemed like it as he rattled off 13 straight points and won by technical superiority in 2:32.

In the second match, the result was the same with Taylor in a technical superiority win. This time around, though, he didn’t give up a takedown and scored 12 unanswered points for the win in 2:46 and his spot on the world team.

“It feels dang good. It’s not the end goal,” Taylor said. “This is the first step. To do it here in front of these fans, it’s pretty special. I was so pumped up.”

Taylor, a native of Ohio, stated during Friday’s press conference that central Pennsylvania was his home. He recently opened his M2 Training Center in Julian and has his own club teams. He said that there wasn’t any added pressure to clinching his first world team spot at Penn State. However, he did make sure to make a stance that his “home” should host other events.

“Why not do it here? Look at these fans,” Taylor said of the chance of making the world team. “I’m happy that it’s here. As Jordan Burroughs said in his interview, ‘Why not have one in Lincoln?’ We sure as heck better have one here in State College, every single year. These fans love wrestling, and will support any single person that steps on that mat with love, excitement and energy, and that’s what we need.”

With the “monkey off his back,” Taylor made sure that if this was his last time in Rec Hall competing, he’d hear that famed “We Are” chant as he led the crowd.

Two other men’s spots were clinched Saturday night at 65 and 79 kilograms. The matchups didn’t disappoint.

Ohio State’s Joey McKenna and former Buckeye Logan Stieber squared off in the first bout of the night for the 65 kg spot. Stieber swept the younger McKenna in two matches, but it wasn’t easy to start.

McKenna led the first match 7-6 with 1:15 left, but the veteran Stieber earned exposure points and won by criteria in a match that ended 8-8. The second match Stieber didn’t give up a point in an 8-0 win.

Four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake, who previously beat Taylor several times for world team spots, took on reigning 174-pound NCAA champion in Zahid Valencia of Arizona State. It was all it was hyped up to be, but the crafty Dake swept Valencia in two matches. Dake shut out Valencia 4-0 in the first match and then rallied for a 4-3 victory in the second match.

Three women’s United State’s team spots were on the line, and only one didn’t go the full three matches.

Three-time world champion Adeline Gray showed she’s on a mission at 76 kilograms after coming back from injuries. Gray defeated Korinahe Bullock by technical superiority 10-0 in 75 seconds in the first match. In the second bout, Gray pinned Bullock in 64 seconds.

Mallory Velte (62 kilograms) and Erin Clodgo (72 kg) each had to go the distance to earn their respective spots.

Velte dropped her first match against Kayla Miracle 4-2. Velte responded with her own 4-2 win to set up the winner-take-all final match. She made sure the third match was in her control as she topped Miracle, 7-1.

Clodgo needed late exposure points to top Rachel Watters 4-2 in their opener. Watters looked like a completely different wrestler in the second match, scoring eight unanswered points for the shutout victory.

In the third match, Clodgo got a much needed push out point with 24 seconds remaining. It tied the match at 4-4, and Clodgo won on criteria by scoring the last point.