Can Penn State University win its third consecutive NCAA Division I wrestling title?
Nico Megaludis thinks so.
"If we can stay healthy, I don't see any reason why we can't win another title," said Megaludis, a sophomore who graduated from Franklin Regional High School. "When you consider how many starters we have back, we have the potential to be even better than last year's team."
Penn State had six wrestlers finish among the top three in their weight classes at last year's NCAA tournament and five were underclassmen. Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (165) and Edward Ruth (174) won national titles for the Nittany Lions, while Megaludis (125) and Quentin Wright (184) placed second and Dylan Alton (157) placed third. Molinaro was the only senior in the group.
Alton's twin brother, Andrew, has stepped in to take Molinaro's spot in the lineup. Andrew Alton redshirted last season after starting the year before. Ruth and Wright have moved up one weight class to 184 and 197, respectively, and super-sub Matt Brown has stepped in at 174.
"Those moves make us an even stronger team," Megaludis said.
Penn State's season officially opened on Nov. 17, as the Nittany Lions dominated Lehigh, 29-6, and West Virginia, 44-3.
But for Megaludis and three Nittany Lions teammates, the season began two weeks earlier, as they were chosen to wrestle in the 2012 U.S. Marine Corps All-Star Classic, which took place Nov. 3 at American University in Washington, D.C.
Megaludis, ranked No. 2 in the country at 125 pounds, faced No. 3 Jesse Delgado of Illinois and posted a 4-3 victory.
"It was good to open the season with such a tough opponent," Megaludis said. "I learned a lot from that match. It doesn't count on my record, but it was a great experience."
Megaludis and his Penn State teammates were given two days off last week for Thanksgiving.
"Our next competition is the Penn State Open [Sunday]," Megaludis said. "We have eight days off for Christmas. When we come back, we have the Southern Scuffle [Jan. 1-2]. It's the toughest tournament in the country. Seven of the top 10 wrestlers in my weight class will be at that tournament. I'm really looking forward to it."
Another Westmoreland County wrestler has joined Megaludis at Penn State, but he will have to wait a year to make his varsity debut.
Derry Area graduate Jimmy Gulibon, a four-time PIAA champion, is redshirting this year.
"Jimmy and I have been good friends for a long time," Megaludis said. "It's great to have Jimmy in the wrestling room."
Megaludis feels sitting out the season from intercollegiate competition but practicing against the starters every day is the best thing for Gulibon.
"I think a redshirt year will be real beneficial for Jimmy," Megaludis said. "The extra year will help him reach his goals."
Megaludis was also pleased to hear that a third Westmoreland County wrestler will join them next year, as Kiski Area senior Matt McCutcheon has chosen Penn State.
"That shows you just how strong wrestling has become in Westmoreland County," Megaludis said.
Megaludis certainly hasn't forgotten his roots.
"I spent most of the summer working out with the Young Guns Wrestling Club," Megaludis said. "Most of the kids from Franklin Regional are part of that club. It was great to roll around on the mat with them."
Megaludis is expecting Franklin Regional to "make some noise" this season.
"I'm excited to see what they can do," Megaludis said. "They have some tremendous underclassmen. It would have been nice if they were a couple years older, so I could have wrestled with them.
"It's kind of funny, because all of those guys are bigger than me now."
First Published November 29, 2012 5:00 AM