Near-misses a motivator for NCAA wrestling quartet

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Maybe could have moved that way for an escape. Or used that arm or this leg differently and attempted something else for a takedown.

Few sports present such a razor-thin margin for error as wrestling — the slightest body movement can be the difference between winning and losing — and four local wrestlers experienced that first-hand last season.

Penn State's Nico Megaludis, David Taylor and Matt Brown, as well as Edinboro's Mitchell Port dropped NCAA Division I championship matches by a total of six points in 2013, near-misses that could have reinforced Pennsylvania's dominance when it comes to the sport.

Further, Penn State still captured a third consecutive national title, but all of five points kept the Nittany Lions from having five individual champions.

“It's a new year, but obviously I haven't forgotten about last year,” Brown said. “I'm excited for this year. It's going to be a lot of fun.”

The 2014 NCAA Tournament begins Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., and those four will aim for a reversal of fortunes this time.

While none of the four said it matters much whether they lost by one or 50 points, the consensus opinion went something like this: It's still a loss, and that pain doesn't go away easily.

Just ask Port, who's 26-0 this season and seeded atop the 141-pound bracket.

“You don't forget about it,” said Port, who dropped a 4-3 decision to Kendric Maple of Oklahoma last season. “There's a big difference between winning and taking second.”

Taylor, who's 29-0 and seeded No. 1 at 165 pounds, agreed.

“A loss is a loss,” said Taylor, who won a national title in 2012 and will try to become Penn State's first-ever four-time finalist. “It doesn't matter how you go about it. You're not a competitor if you're content with something like that.”

Edinboro coach Tim Flynn has worked with Port on using his legs more, moving quicker and making sure he remains active with his hands.

But while Flynn acknowledges one-point losses can be hard to forget, it's also important to remember that even reaching the championship bout of a 33-wrestler tournament is something no one can take away.

“I think it definitely bothers you,” Flynn said. “You're real close to winning, but in Mitchell's case, we haven't sat down and pondered his career. We're just trying to make sure (the close loss) doesn't happen again.”

Clarion coach Troy Letters — a Shaler graduate — has experience with close, crushing losses.

Letters, a three-time All-American at Lehigh, suffered a 6-3 defeat to Matt Lackey of Illinois in the 2003 165-pound final. A year later, he became a national champion.

“You learn a heck of a lot more from a loss than you do a win,” Letters said. “I can rattle off every loss I had in college and high school and what mistakes were made and what I did to fix them.

“Those guys are definitely wrestling with something to prove, with a chip on their shoulder.”

For Megaludis, a Franklin Regional product, that means finishing the job. He has come up short in the past two NCAA finals, last year suffering a 4-1 decision to Iowa's Matt McDonough.

“NCAAs are all mental,” said Megaludis, who's seeded No. 3 at 125 and could potentially draw rival Jesse Delgado of Illinois in the championship bout. “Everyone out there wants to win. Everyone's good. There are 33 guys there for a reason. Everyone you wrestle you have to be ready for.”

If there's one thing lacking on Penn State coach Cael Sanderson's resume, it's how to deal with a close loss; that's understandable when you go 159-0 in college and are the only undefeated four-time NCAA champion.

Still, Sanderson channels his inner Al Davis when talking about how Megaludis, Taylor and Brown are approaching this year's national tournament.

“You have to have a clear purpose, and you can't be motivated by fear, meaning you don't want to fail or repeat a mistake you made,” Sanderson said. “Do you want to win? These guys want to win.

“This is the time of year to just win.”

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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