Penn State took home its fourth Southern Scuffle title in as many years Thursday, pulling way from the field during the second day of action UTC’s McKenzie Arena. The Nittany Lions, who racked up 189 points during the two-day event, were followed by Oklahoma State (164.5), Minnesota (161.0), Cornell (114.5) and Missouri (102.5) in the top 5.
And while the Mocs finished 16th in the 34-team field that included 10 of the top 25 programs in the nation, the event, presented by Defense Soap and Flips Wrestling, was a resounding success at the turnstiles. The two-day attendance total of 6,3330 smashed last year’s record of 5,399. A new single-day record was set with 3,436 fans attending Day 2.
“I think things are bigger and better,” UTC head coach Heath Eslinger said. “There are so many people involved who make this event possible. The administration, wrestling fans that volunteer and arena workers-it really takes a city-wide effort to pull off an event of this caliber in this way. I think we pulled it off with excellence and we did it the right way.”
The Mocs were led by Nick Soto’s fourth-place showing at 133 pounds-the junior’s second career top-4 finish at the Scuffle.
Soto began Day 2 in the quarterfinals against Minnesota’s third-seeded Davis Thorn, who he defeated on his way to a second-place Scuffle finish as a freshman. This time around, though, Thorn had the upper hand, scoring a 10-2 major decision.
Soto then went to work in the backdraw, scoring wins over fifth-seeded Shelton Mack of Pittsburg, Missouri’s Matt Manley and fourth-seeded Joe Roth of Central Michigan. Unfortunately for Soto, he encountered Thorn in the medal round, and was defeated by the senior 17-2 this time around.
“I’m happy with today’s finish,” said Soto, the reigning Southern Conference Wrestler of the Week. “You always want more but you just have to go out, wrestle your hardest and let the chips fall where they are going to fall.”
Cornell freshman Gabe Dean highlighted the event with his first-place finish at 184 pounds. Seeded third and ranked seventh coming into the tournament, he knocked off Penn State’s top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Ed Ruth, 7-4. He also scored a 2-1 win over Minnesota’s Kevin Steinhaus in the semifinals, earning the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award from the coaches in attendance.
Ruth was one of seven top-ranked wrestlers competing at the Scuffle, but he wasn’t the only No. 1 to get knocked off Thursday, as Missouri’s Drake Houdasheldt pinned top-ranked Nick Dardanes of Minnesota to capture the 149-pound title.
Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett, who’d just taken over the top spot at 125, plowed through a very tough field to win his first title, defeating Penn State’s Nico Megaludis in the finals 6-4. Nittany Lions freshman Zain Retherford put his team over the top, though, with his win at 141.
Penn State senior David Taylor had a very impressive tournament, scoring bonus points in each of his five wins, including a 9-1 major decision over Oklahoma State’s second-ranked Tyler Caldwell to win his third Scuffle crown.
OSU’s Alex Dieringer needed overtime to win at 157, and senior Chris Perry was the Cowboys’ third winner with his repeat performance at 197. The 2013 National Champion took out Penn State’s Matt Brown 4-0 in a rematch of last year’s NCAA finals.
Minnesota won the final two weight classes, beginning with Scott Schiller’s victory at 197. He defeated Iowa State’s Kyven Gadsen 6-3 in the finals, while two-time NCAA Champion and 2012 Scuffle winner Tony Nelson capped the evening with a 1-0 win over N.C. State’s Nick Gwiazdowski at heavyweight.
The Mocs return to action on Jan. 10-11 when they travel to Hampton, Va., for the Hampton Duals. UTC’s final home match of the year is set for Sunday, Feb. 2 against Appalachian State.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.