Penn State, Cornell vie for top spot
PHILADELPHIA -- When Cael Sanderson left Iowa State for Penn State two years ago he said he thought he could build a wrestling powerhouse by recruiting the rich talent of Pennsylvania. Right now his prediction looks accurate, as his second-ranked Nittany Lions led top-ranked Cornell 30.5-29.0 after Day 1 of the 2011 NCAA wrestling championships.
Penn State is being paced by a youthful squad. At the lead of the pack is redshirt freshman David Taylor. The undefeated grappler followed up his win in the 157-pound first round Thursday morning with a dominating technical fall over David Bonin of Northern Iowa, 20-3.
The Nittany Lions sent a tournament-best seven wrestlers to Friday morning's quarterfinals, where the team could do the necessary damage to distance itself from the pack.
However, Cornell made it well-known it would not go away without a fight. The Big Red put together an exceptional night session Thursday, advancing five wrestlers to the quarterfinals, including defending NCAA champion Kyle Dake (149 pounds) and Mack Lewnes, who sparked the squad with a crucial pin over Ohio's Nick Purdue.
Three-time defending champion Iowa and Oklahoma State lurk in the wings with 25.0 apiece, should either of the current front-runners falter. The Hawkeyes have five wrestlers in the quarterfinals, while the Cowboys placed four in Friday's championship round.
The biggest news of the night, though, happened on an individual level when top-ranked Darrion Caldwell (149 pounds) suffered a serious shoulder injury, which forced him to take a medical default to Michigan's Eric Grajales.
A 2009 NCAA champion, Caldwell has battled injuries over the past 1½ years, and his colorful career came to an unfortunate close Thursday night in the Wells Fargo Center.
The upset bug finally showed up during the nightcap at 125 pounds when Utah Valley's Ben Kjar upended Old Dominion's fourth-seeded and undefeated James Nicholson, 2-1.
Nearly all of the top four wrestlers advanced to the quarterfinals, which should make the Friday's action heated and full of top-notch wrestling. Add in the tight race for the team championship, and by the night's end, the picture of who will take home the team crown could become less fuzzy. Or it could just get more distorted.
Session III begins at 10:30 a.m. ET Friday with quarterfinal and wrestlback action. Follow live on ESPN3.com.
Jason McDonnell is covering the NCAA wrestling championships for ESPN.com and ESPN Mobile. Follow along on your mobile device here.