Penn State-Pitt wrestling match a giant hit

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State wrestler Wes Phipps liked the sound of the mat the best. It was elevated above the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center, this match against Pitt moved away from Rec Hall as a special event. The extra height gave the mat added flavor.

"It makes a pretty sweet sound whenever you pick a guy up and slam him down on it," Phipps said.

He dropped his opponent, Aaron Rothwell, three times in the 184-pound weight class match, winning a major decision and helping Penn State defeat Pitt, 28-9, Sunday in a dual. The official attendance registered at 15,996 -- the biggest crowd for a duel match in NCAA history and the biggest crowd for a sporting event at Bryce Jordan Center.

There was plenty else to like about this set-up, aside from the sound of the mat. Lights flashed the names of wrestlers such as Nico Megaludis and David Taylor as they competed. Wrestlers walked in past a strong, fervent student section. Overall, it felt like an NCAA championship atmosphere.

"That's a great deal for our program and [with] it being two Pennsylvania schools, [it's] a big deal," coach Cael Sanderson said. "I just hope we wrestled an exciting enough style that made it worth everybody's time."

At times, some of the matches did lack suspense and the flourishes that make wrestling a worthy spectator sport. Plenty of that had to do with Penn State. After Pitt took a 9-6 lead on Mikey Racciato's pin of James English in the 149-pound class, the Nittany Lions didn't lose a match the rest of the way and dominated most of them.

Taylor, a three-time All-American, needed just nine seconds into the second period before he pinned Geno Morelli in the 165-pound weight class match.

"That guy shot in and I got a couple tricks on him and the referee called a pretty fast pin, maybe a little too fast," Taylor said. "My biggest thing is I'm the best when I'm in flurries and great in action."

Penn State's other star wrestler, Ed Ruth, didn't compete. He has been suspended since late November because of a DUI charge. Phipps filled in and made the best of the experience, starting with his walk-up music. As he took the mat, Alabama's "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" played.

Aside from Taylor, Phipps may have had the most dominating performance of anyone on Penn State. His 13-3 decision against Rockwell also clinched the dual in Penn State's favor.

"Ruth will be coming back here pretty soon so it was kind of my last little hurrah," said Phipps, who is from Grove City. "So I wanted to go out there on a big stage and have fun."

Sanderson said that at this point in the season, winning isn't his only concern. He wants to see progression. Sunday, he said he wanted to see more focus during the matches from his team.

Either way, the record-breaking event was a success. Though Pitt coach Jason Peters wanted to win more matches, he even agreed.

"It was good for Pennsylvania wrestling," he said.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State wrestler Wes Phipps liked the sound of the mat the best. It was elevated above the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center, this match against Pitt moved away from Rec Hall as a special event. The extra height gave the mat added flavor.

"It makes a pretty sweet sound whenever you pick a guy up and slam him down on it," Phipps said.

He dropped his opponent, Aaron Rothwell, three times in the 184-pound weight class match, winning a major decision and helping Penn State defeat Pitt, 28-9, Sunday in a dual. The official attendance registered at 15,996 -- the biggest crowd for a duel match in NCAA history and the biggest crowd for a sporting event at Bryce Jordan Center.

There was plenty else to like about this set-up, aside from the sound of the mat. Lights flashed the names of wrestlers such as Nico Megaludis and David Taylor as they competed. Wrestlers walked in past a strong, fervent student section. Overall, it felt like an NCAA championship atmosphere.

"That's a great deal for our program and [with] it being two Pennsylvania schools, [it's] a big deal," coach Cael Sanderson said. "I just hope we wrestled an exciting enough style that made it worth everybody's time."

At times, some of the matches did lack suspense and the flourishes that make wrestling a worthy spectator sport. Plenty of that had to do with Penn State. After Pitt took a 9-6 lead on Mikey Racciato's pin of James English in the 149-pound class, the Nittany Lions didn't lose a match the rest of the way and dominated most of them.

Taylor, a three-time All-American, needed just nine seconds into the second period before he pinned Geno Morelli in the 165-pound weight class match.

"That guy shot in and I got a couple tricks on him and the referee called a pretty fast pin, maybe a little too fast," Taylor said. "My biggest thing is I'm the best when I'm in flurries and great in action."

Penn State's other star wrestler, Ed Ruth, didn't compete. He has been suspended since late November because of a DUI charge. Phipps filled in and made the best of the experience, starting with his walk-up music. As he took the mat, Alabama's "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" played.

Aside from Taylor, Phipps may have had the most dominating performance of anyone on Penn State. His 13-3 decision against Rockwell also clinched the dual in Penn State's favor.

"Ruth will be coming back here pretty soon so it was kind of my last little hurrah," said Phipps, who is from Grove City. "So I wanted to go out there on a big stage and have fun."

Sanderson said that at this point in the season, winning isn't his only concern. He wants to see progression. Sunday, he said he wanted to see more focus during the matches from his team.

Either way, the record-breaking event was a success. Though Pitt coach Jason Peters wanted to win more matches, he even agreed.

"It was good for Pennsylvania wrestling," he said.

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05


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