It's been an up-and-down season for Penn State's back-to-back brother duo.
There was a five-pin performance en route to a 149-pound title at the Nittany Lion Open from Andrew Alton, his personal season-opener after missing the first two PSU meets with a lingering ankle injury. There was brother Dylan's second-place finish at 157 at the Nittany Lion Open, and a No. 5 ranking heading into the prestigious Southern Scuffle in Tennessee.
But then, the trouble began.
A suspension for violating team rules kept the redshirt sophomore twins out of the Jan. 1-2 Southern Scuffle, as well as the Nittany Lions' first three bouts of 2013. Dylan was victorious in his return to the mat against Big Ten foe Nebraska, knocking off the Cornhuskers' James Green 3-1, while Andrew lost by fall in the same match.
The brothers would go 10-2 in the final six meets of the season, before each lost their final match of the Big Ten Tournament, Andrew to Purdue's Ivan Lopouchanski by fall to take fourth place, Dylan to Minnesota's Danny Zilverberg by decision to take sixth. It was a result neither wanted, nor expected, but happened nonetheless.
It's not that those losses are irrelevant now, because the taste of defeat is never forgotten in any grapplers mind. But they are, in a sense. The Altons are two of 10 Lions to qualify for this weekend's NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, and both hope to take the final opportunity to finish the season strong.
I was not happy with the way [Big Tens] ended, but I still have the same goal I had before, Dylan Alton said. The goal is to win a national title. After the setbacks at Big Tens, I didn't do what I wanted to do. But last week, I refocused, and came back into the room, and worked on what I needed to work on and got ready for nationals.
Now it's here, and I'm pretty excited.
Dylan says he feels better than he did a year ago heading into the national tournament (where he finished third). The week between the Big Ten tournament and the trip to Des Moines are certainly a reason for that. But Dylan also feels there are some other things working in his favor this year, where he is seeded eighth, and facing a pigtail bout with Columbia's Jake O'Hara for the right to battle with Pittsburgh's Donnie Tasser in the second round.
He beat Tasser already once this year, relying on his heavy takedown offense to stop the Panther 7-3 on Feb. 8. But first, he'll need to get past O'Hara, and he'll rely on a few things to do so.
I say I feel more confidence this year, and knowing that I can win and believing in myself, Dylan Alton said. That puts me in a better situation, and I'm just there, I think. This time of year, it's all there. My condition is great; it hasn't been any better, and I'm just ready to rock n' roll.
You've got to beat everyone to win it all.
Andrew, meanwhile, drew the 11th seed in the national tournament, good for an opening round match-up with Missouri's Drake Houdashelt before a potential scrap with familiar Big Ten foe Dylan Ness of Minnesota if both beat their first round opponents.
The lighter brother was 7-2 in dual meets this season, and also racked up a team-best 11 falls with open tournament action mixed into the dual season. Similar to the trouble, though, those records and statistics are now wiped away. But the hunger to compete and win has gone nowhere, especially since he redshirted a year ago and didn't participated in the Lions' 2012 team championship.
I feel like I'm getting better throughout the season, and I feel like I'm ready and motivated to go out there and have fun, Andrew Alton said. I think I've improved defense-wise, and not getting scored on, and defending shots.
The throwing combination Andrew has used quite often to end matches early is something he's become known for since the start of his high school career. But he says now, though, that he'd like to relax and have fun, and save stamina in the early goings.
Combine that with a new mind-set, and Penn State's 149-pounder believes he has a clearer vision of what went wrong at times this season, and how to fix it.
[I was] just not going out with a strategy, and I need to get myself more motivated, he said. But I think for nationals, I'm really motivated, and I have a strategy, and will go out there and have fun.
It was just getting back into the mode of wrestling all the tough guys [at Big Tens], and getting a feel for it. I feel like I have a lot to prove, and it's a new year and new tournament, and I'm motivated.
Saying a new mind-set is in place and wrestling with it are two completely different things, something both found out at times throughout the 2012-2013 season. But a new day will be upon all 10 Lions on Thursday when action kicks off, and for two of them, it will be a mission they have to choose to accept, according to their head coach.
It's just a choice, Cael Sanderson said. Dylan had a great year, and I think Andrew, we saw some great things out of him, but didn't get right where we wanted to be [at Big Tens], but saw some of his best wrestling that we've seen all year.
We want to keep building on that, Sanderson added. He's a bad draw, and not ranked very high, but Andrew Alton is dangerous and as good as anybody. He's just got to stay solid, and so what he does, and stay focused.
Dylan is fine. He's a rock, and didn't have the results he wanted at Big Tens, but it's basically the same tournament. The same guys he had to beat to win the Big Ten are the same guys he has to beat to win the national championship.