It was a great atmosphere the pep band, the Nittany Lion mascot and a stronger-than-usual turnout from the students helped energize Rec Hall. It was the type of atmosphere that seemed ideal to give the home team just the push it would need to get a big win, but....
There are few teams in any sport at any level that are better at coming back strongly after getting knocked down than the Hawkeye wrestlers. The Hawkeyes were reeling from a blowout loss to Illinois and their first loss to Northwestern in 35 years the previous weekend. They were facing a Penn State team that had stormed to wins over Indiana and Purdue and were hungry for a win in front of an energized home audience. Iowa came out determined and aggressive against the Nittany Lions and even in the bouts it lost, wrestled hard and wrestled smart. Iowa has still not lost three consecutive dual meets since the 1965-66 season.
I know Jim Zalesky is being crucified by some in Iowa City but there are few coaches doing a better job of consistently producing than Zalesky. And the fact is that Zalesky is doing things the right way. His kids wrestle hard and improve over the course of their careers under him. With five freshmen and five juniors in that lineup, the Hawkeyes future looks bright under Zalesky. Here's hoping the fans and administration are willing to give him and them that chance. Which is not to say Iowa isn't capable of doing some damage this season don't forget the Big Ten championship will be in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and there is no greater home venue in this sport. Like many other observers, I don't really see how Iowa would be able to beat Illinois, or Michigan, in the tournament, but I wouldn't be willing to bet very much against the Hawkeyes.
Much of the above sentence would apply to Penn State and Troy Sunderland as well. Although Friday night's performance, by the first half of the lineup, was not acceptable this team and program as a whole continues to develop under Sunderland's tutelage. And, as noted in an earlier column, fans should be encouraged by the prospects for next season. Which is not to say Penn State isn't capable of doing some damage this season. If this team can rise to the occasion, a top-five finish is possible in Iowa City and this team could be a top-15 team at the NCAA tournament.
Although there were several disappointing aspects to Friday night's meet, the most disappointing was obviously Nate Galloway's performance at 157 pounds. It is the first time this season that we've seen an on-mat meltdown by Galloway. Although he was plagued by a few such incidents as a freshman, I really thought after the redshirt year and his performance to date this season, we had seen the last of those episodes from him. To have such an incident come this late in the season in such a key bout is even more jarring.
Only Galloway can answer this question, but it needs to be asked: Does he want to compete at this level? He is a very skilled wrestler and has a great background, but he has given little indication of being a competitor somebody with a burning desire to win at all costs since entering Penn State. There is no question that his shoulder was bothering him, but the great ones battle through pain and still perform think Jordan in the NBA playoffs, Terrell Owens in the Super Bowl, and perhaps more relevant, Eric Bradley this season, and Scott Lynch, Jim Martin, Matt White and countless others in years gone by for Penn State. Wrestling well when you are not 100 percent is just part of wrestling at this level. Very few, if any, wrestlers make it through the NCAA tournament feeling perfectly fine physically. This is not a sport for the weak of body or of mind, and I'm just wondering if the years of competing Galloway has been very active in the sport since he was 6 have taken a toll on his desire to compete. In some ways, it would be understandable if Galloway just wants or needs a break from the sport.
Regardless of the reasons, Penn State cannot afford to have a wrestler, especially one that has been in the program for three years, go out and give up takedowns as easily as Galloway did Friday night. The fact that it came in the biggest home match of the season made it all the more demoralizing for Penn State.
Penn State's first five wrestlers just didn't look like they were ready to wrestle Friday night. The inconsistency in many ways in understandable with the youth of this team. But Friday's performance is more disconcerting because it comes with the Big Ten championships just a month away. It's hard to know if nerves were at the root of Friday's tentativeness. But if that was the case, the lessons learned will have to be quickly put to use for this team to have a good postseason showing. Of particular concern is the inconsistency of some of the veterans like DeWitt Driscoll and Galloway. I still believe Driscoll is a legit All-American prospect this season, but he has to get more consistent between now and the postseason.
On the positive side, James Yonushonis is showing signs of picking up his offense again and did a great job of pushing to finish off the major decision. Eric Bradley's win over Iowa's Paul Bradley was huge for two reasons. One, it gives Bradley the upper hand at having the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten championships something he should virtually be assured with a win Friday night over Illinois' Brian Glynn. Two, Paul Bradley has to be doubting himself a bit, now having lost three straight matches in the Big Ten.
Joel Edwards is looking more comfortable and stronger at heavyweight. I hope fans appreciate the effort Edwards is giving this program. The transition he is making is not an easy one but his competitive fire is shining through right now and he is a lot closer to breaking through among the upper echelon than I think anyone has a right to expect to him to be at this point.
Lock Haven is down this season, but Penn State needs to focus on its own improvement as it prepares for a very tough trip to Illinois this weekend. The Nittany Lions will face the Big Ten-leading Fighting Illinois Friday night and then a rising Northwestern squad Saturday.
Although Penn State will still wrestle Ohio State in a home match at the Jordan Center, five seniors will be honored at Rec Hall Tuesday night prior to the match against Lock Haven. However, Penn State fans should get to see two of those seniors again next season. Both James Woodall and Eric Bradley are hoping to another year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.
The other three who will be honored are fourth-year senior and four-year starter Adam Smith, Jarrad Turner and heavyweight Josh Walker. I'll have more on the senior class in next week's column, but these guys have all worked hard and represented Penn State wrestling in a way that should make all fans of the program proud.