OKLAHOMA CITY — Ed Ruth and David Taylor have been referred to as college wrestling's “odd couple.”
There's some merit to that.
They employ different wrestling styles, approach the mental aspect of the sport from different angles and possess unique personality traits that set them apart off the mat. Taylor is a self-described goofball. Ruth can ham it up too, but he's a bit out there — capable of having any random thought pop into his brain for motivation at any time.
Take his answer to this question — Can you pick one word to sum up your career? — as evidence:
“Dancer,” Ruth said after he won his third NCAA wrestling title on Saturday.
Taylor was a bit more by the book when asked to look back on his career.
“I just think I just matured a lot as a wrestler, as a person,” Taylor said after winning his second individual title and helpung the Nittany Lions to the fifth NCAA crown in program history. “And I just think a lot was just looking up to my coaches every day and having a guy like, obviously, (head coach) Cael (Sanderson), who did what no one else could do. Having a guy like that keeping my mind fresh all the time. And Coach (Casey) Cunningham every day, wrestling with him every day. And just I'm very lucky to be surrounded by real supportive people and my coaches.”
But when you look at their final tallies, not much separates Ruth and Taylor in terms of the impact they've had on Penn State's run of four straight national championships. In that span, they combined to earn critical bonus points in 83 percent of their matches. Inside Chesapeake Energy Arena from Thursday to Saturday, Ruth and Taylor combined to rack up 51.5 of Penn State's 109.5 team points.
In their four NCAA tournaments, Ruth and Taylor combined to earn 197 of Penn State's 483.5 team points, or 41 percent of Penn State's championship production.
“Ed came back and said — after he won and we thought there's a good chance we were going to win, we hadn't won yet — but he said, ‘You know, thinking or knowing we're going to win as a team feels better than me winning my third national championship,'” Sanderson said. “That's just Ed Ruth. I know David has put this team on his shoulders several times, and that's all I asked them to do one more time. That's asking a lot, but obviously they did it.”
While Penn State got a little help from the two Minnesota wrestlers — Dylan Ness and Tony Nelson — losing in their respective final matches, the Nittany Lions won't have the luxury of trotting Ruth and Taylor out to the mat next season. Sanderson is now tasked with replacing his stars who combined to earn bonus points in 230 of 276 combined matches, or 83 percent of the time.
He knows it won't be easy, maybe even impossible, considering Ruth and Taylor's accomplishments.
But Taylor has been high on true freshman Garett Hammond since the former Chambersburg star set foot inside the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex.
Hammond is a two-time PIAA champion and finished his high school career with a 125-14 record. He redshirted this season and competed unattached in a handful of tournaments. Overall, Hammond went 29-7 and showed glimpses of what made Taylor so dangerous — his ability to score early and often.
Hammond earned bonus points in 20 of his bouts. He won nine by fall and seven more by technical falls. He majored four opponents and gave up bonus points in just two of his losses — major decision losses to Virginia junior Nick Sulzer, an NCAA semifinalist this season, and Ohio State's Bo Jordan, who attended St. Paris Graham like Taylor and won the Junior Hodge Trophy recently.
Meanwhile, former Kiski Area standout Matt McCutcheon appears primed to compete for Ruth's spot. McCutcheon was a two-time PIAA finalist where he won it all at 182 his junior season and finished second at 195 as a senior. During his redshirt season at Penn State, McCutcheon went 14-5 and notched four falls, a technical fall and two major decisions.
Both Hammond and McCutcheon paid their own way to compete in the Southern Scuffle in January. They both went 3-2.
After his final collegiate match, Ruth was asked about his relationship with Sanderson. He seemed winded describing how hard it was to wrestle with Penn State coaches on a daily basis.
Then, he offered a glimpse into the future that he and Taylor won't be a part of — at least on the mat.
“Even with some of the freshmen that are in that room, those guys are coming at me, man,” Ruth said. “They're coming at me hard. It's like I've got to keep attacking them. I got to get them to back off. It's like a wolf that bares his teeth.”
Megaludis fine after staying back
Nico Megaludis had to be taken off Penn State's flight before it left Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport due to an illness, a Penn State spokesman confirmed to the CDT.
Sanderson opted to stay back with Megaludis, who was treated for dehydration. Penn State's starting 125-pounder did not require hospitalization.
Megaludis finished third in the NCAA tournament but suffered a rib injury late in his match with Virginia Tech's Joey Dance. Sanderson said Megaludis is expected to make a full recovery in time for offseason work. Megaludis, a junior, still has a redshirt available.