Wrestling attendance record falls as Penn State tops Pitt

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 6:27 p.m.

The wrestling mat was in a different place.

Penn State's wrestlers weighed in at Rec Hall, then took vans to the Bryce Jordan Center.

Even the WWE-style entrance, with wrestlers walking down a runway and offering fans high-fives, differed from the norm.

Yet the wrestling — what the Nittany Lions do better than anybody in the country — remained the same.

With a flurry of points at the upper weights, No. 1 Penn State defeated 11th-ranked Pitt, 28-9, before a record 15,996 at the Bryce Jordan Center, breaking the NCAA wrestling attendance record for a dual meet by 41 fans after the Nittany Lions shifted out of their Rec Hall home for an afternoon.

Penn State hadn't wrestled at the BJC since 2005.

“Wrestling mats are wrestling mats,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “Wherever it is — whether people are watching or not — you should be the same person. I think it's very good practice for our guys.”

Penn State's wrestlers spoke glowingly about the mat, positioned roughly five feet off the ground.

Many said it resembled how things are at the NCAA Tournament, a place plenty familiar for the three-time champs.

“It's a lot like NCAAs,” Penn State 184-pounder Wes Phipps said. “It makes a pretty sweet sound whenever you pick the guy up and slam him down.”

Phipps would know.

Less than 10 seconds into his match, Phipps picked up Aaron Rothwell — subbing for No. 6 Max Thomusseit, who was injured during Friday's win over Maryland — and dropped him with a thud for a two-point takedown.

Phipps' 13-3 major decision was part of a 19-0 run through the second five matches for Penn State (5-0).

“He's fun to watch,” Sanderson said of Phipps, who's filling in for two-time national champion Ed Ruth. Charged with DUI, Ruth won't return until at least Dec. 15.

“(Phipps) is real strong,” Sanderson added. “He picks guys up off the ground … that's fun to watch. The more experience he gets, the better.”

Pitt's Shelton Mack used two late takedowns to decision Jordan Conaway at 133 pounds.

Mike Racciato pinned James English at 6:51 for a win in the 149-pound match to give Pitt (3-1) a 9-6 lead.

“Mikey does a good job of wrestling whistle-to-whistle and giving himself a chance to win,” Pitt coach Jason Peters said. “When he's scrambling, he's real dangerous. The Penn State guy took a shot. He came out, got his hips up and came out on top. That put some spark in us.”

But James Vollrath's 7-2 win over Cole Sheptock at 157 pounds tied the dual entering the break, and top-ranked 165-pounder David Taylor shifted the momentum to the Nittany Lions with a pin of Geno Morelli at 3:09.

“We have a good team from top to bottom,” Taylor said. “It's going to take a lot more than a little adversity to beat us.”

In the only WPIAL vs. WPIAL match, Franklin Regional's Nico Megaludis, ranked No. 3 in the country by InterMat, opened with a 4-1 decision over No. 9 Anthony Zanetta.

Penn State's 141-pounder, No. 11 Zain Retherford, gave up his first takedown of the year but still prevailed over Edgar Bright, 3-2.

No. 3 Matt Brown and No. 4 Morgan McIntosh added wins for Penn State down the stretch, McIntosh's coming down to an escape in the third overtime period.

The dual certainly didn't lack for excitement, part of the reason it eclipsed the former attendance record of 15,955, held by Iowa since Dec. 6, 2008.

But will this become an every-year thing? That's still to be determined, Sanderson said.

“I don't know,” Penn State's coach said. “We'll have to figure that out, talk about it. But it's a lot of fun. We'll have to see. I think the fans tell you whether it's the right thing or not, whether they're buying tickets or not, whether it's a good product or not.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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