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The Good, the Bad & Mulkey

The welcome mat is out! Officially, spring begins this week. To be sure, it is a welcome sight, but in the transitioning world of sports, the changing of the athletic seasons defines the passing of time a bit more succinctly than do the pages of the calendar on the wall.

‘Athletic spring’ actually began a few weeks ago when spring sports began their ‘official’ practice season. Now, those same baseball, softball, tennis, and track and field teams are beginning their regular season play, whether Mother Nature is ready or not.

While conditions outside seemed determined to keep winter’s chill among us with snow squalls and howling winds, wrestlers from District IV continued to show their PIAA brethren that there is gold in the local hills. As reported in the week’s cover story, Montgomery’s wrestling brothers Conner and Brandt Harer and Warrior Run’s Reagan Milheim stood atop the podium, winning state champions at 160, 133, and 145 pounds, respectively, while Central Mountain’s Luke Simcox won gold at Class AAA 145 pounds.

Twelve other area grapplers medaled in Chocolate Town, including Muncy’s Austin Johnson, second at 215 pounds; Gage Wentzel, Montoursville, fourth at 152; Cameron Milheim, Warrior Run, sixth at 152; Colton Wade, Sullivan County, eighth at 121; Hudson Ward, Canton eighth at 160; Dalton Perry, Central Mountain, second at 130; and Griffin Walizer, Central Mountain, sixth at 152.

In the PIAA’s first girls’ wrestling tournament, Williamsport Rumsey sisters Lillian 112 and Marissa 136 placed third. Montgomery’s Emily Murphy finished third at 130; Alexis Kurzawa of Hughesville placed eighth at 148; and Kendall Wagner of Central Mountain also placed eighth at 170.

Many of those same wrestlers and fans watching the action in Hershey gathered around their TV sets the next day to watch the Penn State wrestling team secure its second consecutive Big Ten team wrestling championship in dominating fashion, finishing 47 points ahead of runner-up Michigan.

Five Nittany Lions secured Big Ten gold, including freshman Braeden Davis, who became PSU’s first 125-pound champion since 1999. Other Happy Valley champions were Levi Haines (157), Mitchell Mesenbrink (165), Aaron Brooks (197), and Greg Kerkvliet (285).

The victory marked Penn State’s eighth Big Ten team title under head coach Cael Sanderson, showcasing the program’s continued excellence in collegiate wrestling. The team is sending ten individual wrestlers, the most since 2014, to this year’s National Championships in Kansas City being conducted this Thursday to Sunday.

Under Sanderson’s guidance, the Nittany Lions have consistently excelled in the NCAA Championships, winning an impressive 10 national titles and have produced numerous individual champions. Their dynasty twice has had consecutive runs of four titles from 2011-2014 and again from 2106-2019.

Hours before the Big Ten wrestlers put on their big show, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, NCAA women’s basketball biggest star, emerged from the Minneapolis halftime locker room energized with super-powers to lead the Hawkeyes to their third consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship in a 94-89 victory over Nebraska.

Down 46-35 at halftime and suffering her worst shooting performance of the year (0-9 from 3 and 11-13 shooting overall), the NCAA’s all-time leader scorer put on a dazzling performance, scoring 34 points, dishing out 12 assists, pulling down 7 rebounds, and making critical stops down the stretch to cap a comeback leading to Iowa’s 3-peat title.

While the Penn State wrestlers and Clark’s Hawkeyes shown forth the pride of the Big Ten, ugliness was exhibited at the Southeastern Conference women’s championship game between undefeated and number 1 ranked South Carolina and the defending national champion LSU.

With two minutes to play, a bench-clearing melee broke out, resulting in multiple ejections. South Carolina had just six available players, and LSU had five. As joyous as the TV scene was following Iowa’s victory, this game left a bad taste in the mouths of those tuning in.

South Carolina’s coach Dawn Staley and LSU’s Kim Mulkey are two of the top coaches in the women’s game. Both have won national championships, and both are known to be outspoken. But in the aftermath, one showed class, the other defiance.

Staley offered an apology.

“I just want to apologize to the basketball community. Sometimes, things get heated, and players’ emotions get so far ahead of them. I want to apologize for us playing a part in that because that’s not who we are, and that’s not what we’re about.”

Mulkey’s comments came out swinging.

“Well, let me say this: do you realize there was only one foul called on each team in the fourth quarter? Are you kidding me? That might have created some of that (rough play). Not the way we play, we’re gonna foul your *#*. But I can tell you this: I wish she (South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso) would’ve pushed Angel Reese. You’re six-eight. Don’t push somebody that little. That was uncalled for. Let those two girls that were jawing go at it.”

Seems a safe bet that Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends & Influence People isn’t on Mulkey’s bookshelf.