Nittany Lions grapple for 4th consecutive NCAA team title

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Will Penn State become the third school in NCAA history to win four consecutive titles? Can Edinboro’s Mitchell Port and A.J. Schopp live up to their top-two seeding? And how many entries from Penn State, Edinboro, Pitt, West Virginia and Clarion will become All-Americans?

Those questions and many more will be answered this weekend at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. The tournament starts today.

Penn State, led by coach Cael Sanderson, has won three championships in a row and is favored to continue the streak. Only two schools have won four or more consecutive NCAA titles: Oklahoma State (1928-31, 1937-42, 2003-06) and Iowa (1978-96, 1996-2000).

“We have the opportunity to win four in a row,” Sanderson said. “That would be a great accomplishment, especially since only two other schools have reached that level. We haven’t talked much about it during the season, but the kids know what’s at stake and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Penn State has a qualifier in all 10 weight classes and has seven wrestlers seeded fifth or better, including two returning champions in top-seeded David Taylor (29-0 at 165 pounds) and No. 2 seed Edward Ruth (29-1, 184). Taylor is a three-time finalist who won in 2012. Ruth is a two-time champion who has one blemish on his record, a loss to top-seeded Jimmy Sheptock (28-0) of Maryland.

The Nittany Lions’ other top-five seeds are No. 3 Nico Megaludis (26-3, 125), No. 3 Zain Retherford (29-1, 141), No. 5 Matt Brown (28-4, 174) and No. 3 Morgan McIntosh (27-3, 197).

Megaludis, a Franklin Regional graduate, is a two-time NCAA runner-up. Brown was a runner-up a year ago.

“Nico hates to lose more than anybody I’ve coached,” Sanderson said. “Look at the last two years and you’ll see that he’s been doing very well at nationals. He deserves to stand atop the winners’ platform this year.”

Penn State’s lineup also includes Derry graduate James Gulibon (17-17, 133), who will make his NCAA debut.

Edinboro has a strong contingent with seven qualifiers, including four seeded wrestlers: No. 2 A.J. Schopp (31-1, 133), No. 1 Mitchell Port (26-0, 141), No. 8 David Habat (26-4, 149) and No. 13 Ernest James (27-5, 285).

“I’m really excited about our chances,” Edinboro coach Tim Flynn said. “We said at the beginning of the year that we wanted to make it to the podium. With seven wrestlers qualifying for nationals and the way we wrestled at [the Eastern Wrestling League tournament], I think if we wrestle our best we have a chance to finish among the top teams.”

Port fell one win short of an NCAA title a year ago after a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple. Schopp was fourth last year.

Pitt has eight entries for the third time in four years, and six have made previous NCAA appearances.

“It’s great for our program and speaks to the type of consistency we’ve developed in recent years,” coach Jason Peters said.

Anthony Zanetta (20-9, 125), a Keystone Oaks graduate, is a four-time qualifier who has come up short in his previous attempts to become an All-American. Tyler Wilps (28-5, 174), a Chartiers Valley graduate, is making his second national appearance. Max Thomusseit (18-2, 184) is a three-time qualifier.

“They’re going to have to fight hard and wrestle well, just like all of our guys,” Peters said. “Seeded or unseeded, every wrestler at nationals is here for a reason, and becoming an All-American is something everyone is fighting for.”

West Virginia, five qualifiers, and Clarion, two, also will be represented at the championships.

Penn State’s Taylor and Ruth are among six returning champions in the tournament. The other four are Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (25-1, 141), Iowa’s Derek St. John (25-4, 157), Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry (25-1, 174) and Minnesota’s Anthony Nelson (26-4, 285).

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