In collegiate sports, even the mightiest teams have periods of decline.
Penn State has been participating in wrestling as a varsity sport for 92 years, with a record of 702-215-33 entering this season.
It finished in the top six nationally every year from 1991-1996, and were fourth in 1999.
Penn State alumni account for 17 national champions and 142 All-Americans.
This season, things are different.
The Nittany Lions are No. 23 in the nation, but they finished their dual meet season at 7-13 only the ninth losing season in the storied history of the program.
The Nittany Lions have been up and down this year, notching impressive victories over Arizona State and Lehigh, which were both ranked in the top ten at the time.
But losses to unranked Pittsburgh and West Virginia, as well as a 1-8 record in the Big Ten, have put a damper on the season.
As with any sport, losing seasons lead to losses of recruits. Penn State has had difficulty finding the same level of talent that they enjoyed in the mid-1990s.
“There are a lot of challenges to get us back to where we need to be,” Penn State coach Troy Sunderland said. “We want good student-athletes, who are going to make a commitment both academically and athletically, and it doesn”t come easy.”
With rapidly improving programs like Michigan and Illinois garnering big name recruits from all parts of the country, the challenge becomes even greater for the Nittany Lions.
Another factor in the decline of Penn State occurred in 1999, when a number of wrestlers were removed from the team for gross indiscretions.
A key loss for the program was Penn State-alum Kerry McCoy”s decision to become an assistant coach at Lehigh, another Pennsylvania school, leaving his post with the Nittany Lions.
McCoy was a two-time national champion at heavyweight in 1994 and 1997.
“He has to do what is best for himself and his career, in terms of marketing himself,” Sunderland said. “But it”s good for Penn State wrestling, no matter where he goes, because he”s a two-time national champ and he”s been in the Olympics.”
Sunderland knows that a daunting task is at hand for the Nittany Lions, who must compete for recruits and victories in the Big Ten as well as the state of Pennsylvania. Like football in Texas, wrestling in Pennsylvania is the passion of the state.
Michigan assistant coach Tony Robie, who wrestled for Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, thinks that Sunderland will be able to turn the program around.
“Programs go through some hard times, and maybe they”re not doing as well as they were five or six years ago, but their coaching staff is working real hard,” Robie said. “I”m sure it won”t be long before they”re back at the top of the Big Ten and the NCAA.”