Penn State takes 3 1/2-point lead

DES MOINES – Cornell’s Kyle Dake joked that he wasn’t even aware of rival David Taylor’s results.

No one believed him.

Dake, the three-time NCAA champion, remained on course for a final showdown with Taylor, the 2012 Hodge Trophy winner, after the opening matches Thursday in the NCAA wrestling championships.

“Did he win his first match?” Dake joked. “Mainly focused on who I have, what the next step is.”

But it’s Taylor and the two-time defending champion Penn State Nittany Lions with the edge heading into the quarterfinals.

The Nittany Lions went 6 for 6 in the second round and lead the meet with 32.5 points. Oklahoma State was second with 29 points and seven quarterfinalists.

Minnesota was third with 24, followed by Iowa with 22.

“As a team, I feel like everybody is doing what they have to do,” said Penn State’s Ed Ruth, the top seed at 184 pounds.

Dake’s bid to become the third wrestler with four NCAA titles – and the first in four weight classes – got off to a sluggish start.

Ohio State’s Mark Martin, who entered the tournament at 17-16, kept it 0-0 through two periods. But Dake opened the final frame with an escape and scored a takedown for a 3-0 win.

Dake finished with a 10-0 win over Indiana’s Ryan Leblanc.

“I feel pretty good conditioning wise. I feel healthy,” Dake said. “Guys are having really good gameplans when they wrestle me. It makes it tough but, a win is a win.”

Taylor was selected the nation’s top wrestler in 2012 before losing his top seeding when Dake moved up a weight class.

Taylor got the favored Nittany Lions started with a brilliant debut.

Taylor crushed John Staudenmayer of North Carolina, pinning him in 2:52. Ruth, followed with a decisive pin and, in the second round, capped a string of three straight pins for the Nittany Lions while extending his winning streak to 65.

Taylor scored the fall over Appalachian State’s Zachary Strickland to earn his spot in the quarterfinals.

The NCAA moved the 165-pound final to the final match Saturday night, presumably to highlight a potential Dake-Taylor matchup, but Taylor and Dake both insist they’re not focused on each other quite yet.

“Bonus points are huge,” Taylor said. “My job is pretty simple. To try and score points and pick up bonus points.”

Iowa scored 10 points in the opening session, good for fourth at the time. But the Hawkeyes suffered a major blow when heavyweight Bobby Telford hurt his knee during an easy win over Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery.

Telford defaulted before his second-round match because of the injury, weakening Iowa’s depth for the team race.

But it looks as though nobody might catch Oklahoma State heavyweight Alan Gelogaev anyway. He pinned both of his first two opponents – in just a total of 52 seconds.

Ohio State’s Logan Steiber, the 2012 winner at 133 pounds, cruised to the quarters with a pair of pins. Steiber nearly made the U.S. Olympic team and remains the overwhelming favorite to repeat as the champion in his class – though second-seeded Tony Ramos of Iowa also racked up a pair of falls Thursday and has the crowd behind him.

“You can hear them. They’re loud. It’s nice,” Ramos said about the pro-Iowa crowd.

The championships continue Friday with the quarter and semifinals, setting up a Saturday night finals for all 10 weight classes.

“Thursday is just kind of for show when it comes to the team points because the big points are scored tomorrow,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “There are some big matches (Friday) that will make a difference so we need to be ready for them.”

Big 4 Round-up

The Iowa Hawkeyes are in fourth place after the first two sessions and will send six of its nine wrestlers into the championship quarterfinals.

Tony Ramos earned two pins on the day to lead the Hawkeyes, which has 22 points and trails first-place Penn State by 10.5 points.

The Nittany Lions are leading with 32.5 points, while Oklahoma State (29), Minnesota (24), Iowa and Oregon State (16) round out the top five. Iowa State is in a tie for 12th with 11.5 points, while Northern Iowa is currently 15th with 11.

Also winning twice on Thursday was Matt McDonough, Mark Ballweg, Derek St. John, Mike Evans and Ethen Lofthouse.

Bobby Telford won his opening round match but was forced to an injury default in the second round. Nick Moore was upset in the first round by Iowa State’s Michael Moreno but bounced back with a pin in his consolation wrestleback.

Also going 1-1 on the day was Nathan Burak. Moore, Burak and Telford will all try to stay alive today when the third session begins at 10 a.m.

The only Hawkeye to score an upset win Thursday was Lofthouse, who beat No. 5 seeded Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota, 3-2, in the second round. Evans and McDonough also scored bonus points in one of their matches as each had a major decision.

All four of Northern Iowa’s wrestlers won their opening round matches but only two – Ryan Loder and David Bonin – are still alive in the championship bracket.

Bonin scored two decisions and will face No. 12 Jed Moore of Virginia today. Loder, who is the sixth seed at 184 pounds, also won two matches by decision. Loder will next face No. 3 Robert Hamlin of Lehigh in the quarterfinals today.

Joey Lazor and Levi Wolfensperger also competed for the Panthers and will try to stay alive in the consolation bracket today.

The Cyclones had an up and down day and when it was all said and done, just one of their seven national qualifiers remained in the championship hunt.

Tanner Weatherman won both of his matches at 174 pounds and will face second-seeded Matt Brown of Penn State in today’s quarterfinals.

Four other Cyclones suffered losses Thursday but are still alive in the consolation bracket. Heavyweight Matthew Gibson won his first two matches but then suffered a 4-2 loss by decision to top-seeded Dom Bradley of Missouri. Kyven Gadson, Boaz Beard and Moreno all went 1-1. All four wrestlers will try to stay alive today.

Gadson, the Big 12 champion at 197 pounds, is wrestling a few days after the passing of his father. Beard lost to Iowa’s Lofthouse 8-2 in the opening round.

Max Mayfield and Luke Goettl both went 0-2 on the day and have been eliminated.

The third session begins at 10 a.m. today from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.