Mason overcomes tough calls, Big Ten rival in Open title
In one fell swoop, Mario Mason erased two years of frustration.
The sophomore took down No. 2 Frank Molinaro of Penn State seconds into overtime of the finals Saturday in the 149-pound bracket at the Nittany Lion Open to earn a 3-1 decision.
The win gave Mason first place in the tournament and a perfect 6-0 record on the day, but it also served as a healthy dose of redemption.
"Well, I've wrestled [Molinaro] three times and he had beaten me all three times," said Mason, who spent last season in the Big Ten with Minnesota. "It was a pretty exciting win for me, probably the biggest one for me in college so far."
The most recent battle against Molinaro came two weeks ago, when Penn State and the Rutgers wrestling team dueled at the Sprawl and Brawl in Binghamton, N.Y. The Nittany Lion took the decision, 4-3, on a controversial call in which Mason was not awarded points for what looked like a solid takedown.
"I had gotten an awful call in that match two weeks ago," Mason said. "It was pretty bad. But you can't rely on the refs to decide things. You have to score enough points necessary to win the match."
Luckily for the Moorestown, N.J., native, his wait for revenge did not take long. After reeling off wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals against other Penn State grapplers, Mason earned a spot in the circle with Molinaro — in front of a gymnasium filled with Penn State supporters.
"They ran him through the Penn State gauntlet at quarters, semis and finals," said head coach Scott Goodale. "It was two of the best kids in the country going at it in Penn State's gym. He's a high-level kid and when he is on, Mario can be one of the best kids in the country. He needed to get his groove back and that's exactly what he did."
Mason felt the home cooking from the crowd and the refs, but dropped all three Happy Valley grapplers by scores of 7-6, 3-1 and 3-1, respectively.
"The refs were not giving me any sort of breaks," he said. "I couldn't buy a call. I just had to win straight up and not let the refs decide it."
Mason and the Scarlet Knights alike knew that Saturday brought about an opportunity to rematch some of the Penn State wrestlers that helped the Nittany Lions take down Rutgers by a 22-10 score.
Sophomore Matt Fusco was unable to avenge his loss to Frank Martellotti, falling in the semifinals to the No. 18 125-pounder, but Mason let his loss fuel the fire for a strong performance.
"To [Mason] it was just another match," said Goodale of the finals. "Listen, he's normal. In the back of his mind he was going there for that match, but he went about the day and he went about his business. For Mario, he just wanted to beat somebody that caliber."
And now that Mason shrugged the Molinaro monkey off his back, his sights are set on the rest of the elite 149-pounders.
"I don't think he is No. 1 in our weight class," Mason said of Molinaro. "I think he is second or third, so I want to keep winning and get to the top."
If the two do battle again this season, chances are that Mason will enter as the higher ranked grappler, as he surpassed Molinaro in the weekly rankings by rising to No. 5 as Molinaro fell to No. 6.
But rankings matter naught when these two step into the circle, and now Mason has the confidence to know he can best his Big Ten rival, no matter who is refereeing or who is watching.
In fact, it might have boosted Mason's confidence just as quickly as it took him to end Saturday's match.
"I think it definitely is going to help me get back on a roll — as most coaches say," Mason said. "Once you get on a roll and pick up a couple of wins then you get that one big win, and your confidence level rises."