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March 19, 2014

Port among favorites to win national title

OKLAHOMA CITY — Penn State is favored to win its fourth consecutive NCAA wrestling title this weekend, despite challenges from traditional powers Iowa, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Minnesota.

Edinboro, led by unbeaten top-ranked Mitchell Port, is also looking to join the party.

“I think the parity is great,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “It takes time. Not too long ago, I think you only had three teams with a chance to win, Now, I think there are 10 or 15 that think they can win and have the resources to do so.”

A pair of seniors — two-time national champion Ed Ruth and three-time national finalist David Taylor — lead Penn State.

Ruth (29-1), who has lost once in the past three years, is the No. 2 seed at 184 pounds. Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock (28-0) is the No. 1 seed. Cornell freshman Gabriel Dean (35-2) defeated Ruth this season, and a rematch is possible in the semifinals.

Taylor (29-0), who won the 165-pound title in 2012 and finished second last year, has won 13 matches by pinfall, eight by technical fall and one by major decision this season.

The finals will be Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Taylor said he appreciates the past four years, and the opportunity he has this weekend.

“I guess the biggest thing is thinking back to how grateful I am that I chose Penn State, and how grateful I am that Ed Ruth and I are on the same team at the same time and pushing each other the past four years,” Taylor said.

Port (26-0) is one of seven Edinboro wrestlers competing at nationals and one of four seeded. A.J. Schopp (31-1) is seeded No. 2 at 133 pounds behind Northern Iowa’s Joe Colon, who dealt Schopp his only loss of the season in the semifinals of the Midlands Championships. Dave Habat is seeded eighth at 149 pounds and Ernest James is seeded 13th at heavyweight.

Kory Mines (125 pounds), Johnny Greisheimer (157) and Vic Avery (184) are also competing for national titles for Edinboro.

Port is the first Edinboro wrestler since Chris Honeycutt (2012) to enter nationals as a No. 1 seed. The 141-pounder was seeded fourth a year ago and reached the semifinals with a 13-5 major decision over 13th-seeded Evan Henderson of North Carolina. He upset No. 1 seed Hunter Stieber of Ohio State 7-6 in the semifinals to reach the title match where he fell to Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple, the No. 2 seed, 4-3.

A number of wrestlers are back to try to defend their titles.

Jessie Delgado of Illinois (25-2) returns to defend his title at 125, but last year’s runner-up, Penn State’s Nicholas Megaludis (26-3), is back.

Ohio State’s Logan Stieber (25-1), the No. 2 seed at 141, won 133 last year and is a two-time national champion. Stieber knocked off Schopp in the semifinals a year ago. Penn State freshman Zain Retherford (29-1) beat Steiber early in the season, but Steiber beat him in the Big Ten final.

Oklahoma State has qualifiers in every class. The Cowboys have won the national title the past two times the championships were held in Oklahoma City.

“Driving down the road here makes it real easy for us,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. “Sometimes, that translates into great wrestling. We have to get focused, and we have to wrestle our best three days that we’ve wrestled all year.”

Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry (25-1) returns to defend his title. Oklahoma’s Andrew Howe (24-1), a past national champ, also is in this class and is seeded No. 2. Perry’s only loss this season is to Howe, but Perry beat him 3-2 in the Big 12 tournament for Howe’s only loss.

“You have to take one match at a time and get ready,” Perry said. “If we meet up again, so be it. I’ll be excited.”

Maple (22-4) leads Oklahoma, He won 141 last year and is the No. 4 seed at 149 this year. Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt (34-1) is the top seed. Houdashelt beat Maple 3-2 in their only meeting this season.

Minnesota has nine qualifiers, led by reigning back-to-back national champion Tony Nelson at 285. Nelson is familiar with the competition — seven of the top 10 seeded wrestlers in his class are from Big Ten schools.

Iowa’s Derek St. John (25-4), the defending champion at 157, is seeded second. Nebraska’s James Green (29-1), the No. 1 seed, beat St. John at the Big Ten Championships. Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan (27-5) is the only wrestler to beat Green this season.

Iowa has 10 qualifiers and feels confident.

“We’ve got to be tough for three days, and I think that’s a pretty comprehensive formula all across the board for all of our guys,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “They believe, and we believe in them.”

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