Sanderson looks at tourney as challenge

UNIVERSITY PARK – In examining the seeds and first-round pairings for the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships today through Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., some would say the Penn State wrestling team didn’t get any favors, that its road to a fourth consecutive championship is harder than ever.

Nittany Lion coach Cael Sanderson, however, would say otherwise.

“We have to wrestle, you know. It’s the national tournament. You win five matches to be the national champion; that’s the way it is. Each individual wrestler has to be aware of who they have but right now it’s more about attitude than just about anything. It’s more than draws and seeds. It’s just who goes out there and scores points,” he said.

“I think that’s a great way for us to get started, if they can go out there and set the tone. It’s a great opportunity for our team. Again, it’s more about just the attitude. The first round, you have to win your first round, but it’s a long tournament and we need 10 guys willing to fight for the team. It’s just like the Big Ten championship. On paper it’s gonna be a long ride. That has to be exciting. But you have to look at it more as a challenge and that’s an optimistic approach and it’s the only way to take it.”

Eight of 10 Nittany Lions were seeded among the top 14 at their respective weights, some of their first-round and potential later-round matchups aren’t easy.

Here’s a weight-by-weight look at Penn State’s seeds and matchups:

125 pounds: Junior Nico Megaludis (26-3), a two-time NCAA finalist, is seeded No. 3. He meets Darian Cruz (23-7) of Lehigh in the first round. Megaludis is in the same half of the draw as No. 2 seed Nahshon Garrett of Cornell. The two could meet in the semifinals. Garrett owns two wins over Megaludis this season.

133: Freshman Jimmy Gulibon (17-13) is unseeded. He is paired with No. 4 seed Jon Morrison (25-1) of Oklahoma State in the first round. Morrison defeated Gulibon, 4-0 in the Southern Scuffle final and 2-0 in the February dual meet.

141: Freshman Zain Retherford (29-1) is seeded third. He meets No. 12 seed Undrakhbayar Khishignyam (22-3) of the Citadel in the first round. Retherford is in the same half of the draw as No. 2 seed and two-time NCAA champion (at 133 pounds) Logan Stieber of Ohio State. The two have split two bouts this year. Retherford won, 4-2 in overtime in the December dual meet, and Stieber won 7-3 in the Big Ten final.

149: Sixth-year senior James English (11-5) is unseeded in his first and only NCAA appearance. He meets No. 12 seed Dyllan Cottrell (22-1) of Appalachian State in the first round.

157: Junior Dylan Alton (18-5) is seeded 13th. He will meet the winner of the match between Brian Murphy (18-7) of Michigan vs. Justin DeAngelis (16-5) of Oklahoma. Alton lost to Murphy, 3-1, in the Big Ten consolation semifinals.

165: Senior David Taylor, a three-time NCAA finalist and a champion in 2012, is seeded first. He will take on South Dakota State’s Joseph Brewster (22-14) in the first round. Taylor is trying to become Penn State’s first four-time finalist.

174: Junior Matt Brown (28-4) is seeded fifth a year after making a run to the NCAA final. His first-round opponent is Kyle Meyer (26-11) of Stanford. He is in the same half of the draw as No. 4 seed Mike Evans of Iowa, who he has split two matches with this season, and No. 1 seed and defending champion Chris Perry of Oklahoma State, who Brown lost to in last year’s final.

184: Two-time champion Ed Ruth (29-1) is seeded second as a senior. He meets Wisconsin’s Jackson Hein (12-7) in the first round. Ruth has the potential to avenge his only loss of the season if he should make it to the semifinals. The No. 3 seed is Cornell’s Gabriel Dean, who beat Ruth, 7-4 in the Southern Scuffle final. Ruth is bidding to become Penn State’s first three-time champion.

197: Sophomore Morgan McIntosh (27-3) is seeded No. 3. He takes on Lehigh’s John Bolich (16-13) in the first round. McIntosh is in the same bracket as the wrestler who handed him two of his three losses. Missouri’s J’Den Cox beat the Nittany Lion twice at the Southern Scuffle.

285: Junior Jon Gingrich (22-8) earned a No. 14 seed. He is paired with SIU Edwardsville’s David Devine (26-11) in the first round.

Tyrone’s A.J. Schopp, now a junior at Edinboro, is seeded second at 133 pounds. His only loss was to No. 1 seed Joe Colon of Northern Iowa. Schopp, 31-1, meets Navy’s Colton Rasche in the opening round.

Sanderson said the Nittany Lions’ pursuit of a fourth-straight championship, something no team has done since Oklahoma State pulled it off from 2003-2006, is keeping the message simple for each of the 10 wrestlers.

“These guys want to win. It has to be a clear purpose. It can’t be motivated by fear I don’t want to fail, I don’t want to repeat a mistake I made. It has to be, what do you want,” he said.

“They want to win. Brown wants to win. Taylor wants to win. And leave it at that. We’re not looking at experience. We have enough experience as a team. It’s either get experience or you just do your job and you win. This is the time of year to just win.”