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|Top-ranked Penn State storms back to grab lead at Big Ten Championships|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Penn State demonstrated precisely why it is still the team to beat in college wrestling this season.
Trailing first-place Iowa by 17 points after the first session of the Big Ten Championships, the top-ranked Nittany Lions roared back to gain the lead in the semifinal round on Saturday night at Assembly Hall.
Penn State went 4-2 in the semifinals, and also benefited from strong performances in the wrestlebacks in the second session.
The Nittany Lions now have 123 points, followed by No. 3 Minnesota (112.5) and No. 4 Iowa (109). The Gophers and Hawkeyes also have four wrestlers apiece in the finals. Sixth-ranked Ohio State is fourth with 92 points and two finalists.
Penn State is seeking its third straight league title. The Nittany Lions have also won the last two NCAA crowns.
The finals will be televised live on the Big Ten Network on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Minnesota finished strong, earning wins in the final three weight classes of the semifinals.
"Our guys started to pull together as a team," Minnesota coach J Robinson said. "Most of the guys won that were supposed to. It was a great round for us."
Iowa went 4-5 in the semis, winning its first three matches but dropping its final three.
"I know we have four in the finals and some with work to do on the back of the bracket," Iowa coach Tom Brands said. "We have to be ready to battle. There is a lot of wrestling left."
The Big Ten has secured 74 automatic qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships, set for March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa. An additional 40 at-large spots will be awarded from all conferences on Wednesday for the NCAA tournament.
Six returning conference champions are back in the finals. They include two-time Big Ten champions Matt McDonough of Iowa (125 pounds), David Taylor of Penn State (165) and Ed Ruth of Penn State (184) along with 2012 league champions Logan Stieber of Ohio State (133), Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota (184) and Tony Nelson of Minnesota (285).
McDonough is a two-time NCAA champion while Taylor, Stieber, Ruth and Nelson also struck NCAA gold in 2012. Ruth has not lost a match in the past two seasons and has won his last 61 matches.
"There is still always a challenge to be had out there," Ruth said. "I always wanted to take my wrestling up to the next step, especially in the third period. I want to wrestle consistent the first two periods and then I want the third period to be the hardest period of that guy's life."
2011 Big Ten and NCAA champion Quentin Wright of Penn State also reached the finals at 197.
Returning Big Ten champion and NCAA runner-up Derek St. John of Iowa fell to James Green of Nebraska 5-4 in the semifinals.
Penn State 123, Minnesota 112.5, Iowa 109, Ohio State 92, Illinois 72.5, Michigan 61, Nebraska 52, Northwestern 50, Purdue 29, Indiana 26.5, Wisconsin 26, Michigan State 17.
Matt McDonough (Iowa) vs. Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
Logan Stieber (Ohio State) vs. Tony Ramos (Iowa)
Hunter Stieber (Ohio State) vs. Mark Ballweg (Iowa)
Jake Sueflohn (Nebraska) vs. Dylan Ness (Minnesota)
James Green (Nebraska) vs. Jason Welch (Northwestern)
David Taylor (Penn State) vs. Conrad Polz (Illinois)
Matt Brown (Penn State) vs. Mike Evans (Iowa)
Ed Ruth (Penn State) vs. Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota)
Quentin Wright (Penn State) vs. Scott Schiller (Minnesota)
Tony Nelson (Minnesota) vs. Mike McMullan (Northwestern)