PSU's Taylor, Cornell's Dake prepping for duel at NCAA Wrestling Championships
David Taylor talked about the importance of not altering his routine because of the magnitude of the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Yet the Penn State redshirt junior stepped out of character, albeit briefly, when asked about an expected showdown with Cornell senior Kyle Dake in the 165-pound finals Saturday night.
“You guys have asked me 50 questions about Dake in the last two minutes,” Taylor told reporters Monday. “Obviously it's something everyone wants to talk about so I've just got to take it as it goes.”
Taylor exaggerated the number of Dake queries, which was fitting: Everything seemingly is inflated when it comes to the anticipated Taylor and Dake meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.
Dake is trying to become the first wrestler to win four national titles at four weight classes. Taylor is the defending champion at 165 pounds, and he won the award last season that is college wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
The two met twice this season, with Dake winning both, 3-2. His late reversal in the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of January saddled Taylor with his only official loss of the season.
The NCAA, mindful of how much maximizing the drama and exposure of another Dake-Taylor meeting will help a sport that is fighting for its Olympics life, made the unprecedented move of shuffling the championship matches Saturday night.
The first will be held at 174 pounds — instead of 125, the lowest weight class — so the final match will of the season will presumably pit the two friends and former training partners against each other.
Taylor and Dake have tried tempering the hype for a simple reason: Each has to win four matches just to make the finals.
“I think the most important thing for me to recognize is that I got to first get there before I can make history,” said Dake, who has previously won national titles at 141, 149 and 157 pounds. “If I just go out and do my job, then I'm good (enough) to where I need to be. I've been working real hard this season and hopefully pushing myself over the edge to get that fourth national title.”
Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs encouraged Dake to try and make history — again — after the latter became the first wrestler to win three national titles at three weight classes.
If Dake, who trained with Burroughs and other Olympians last summer in London, wins a fourth title, he will do something that may never happen again.
“I honestly don't know how to compare that,” said Penn State's Ed Ruth, the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds who is trying to win a second national title. “As you move up more and more, you're getting tested. I moved up 10 pounds, and there's some of these guys out there that give me a hard time.”
The move to 165 from 157 has hardly disagreed with Dake, who takes a 32-0 record into the NCAA tournament.
“He's a savvy wrestler, and he knows what it takes to win,” said Taylor, who is 26-1. “I'm really good when I score a lot of points, and that's what I've got to focus on is putting points on the scoreboard.”
Even Taylor admitted nothing would be better for the sport than for him and Dake to deliver a memorable final.
“You want to win matches that you're going to be remembered for, so that's obviously something we're both looking forward to,” Taylor said. “He's got something he wants to do. I've got something I want to do, and that's what makes wrestling fun.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ ScottBrown_Trib.