Nico Megaludis is joining the Pittsburgh Regional Training Center as its third resident athlete. He will accompany Samat Nadyrbek Uulu and Jon Gingrich. While Samat and Jon compete at 57kg and 125kg, respectively, Nico wrestles 61kg, the second lightest weight class in international wrestling. Both Nico and Jon attended Penn State for their collegiate careers, whereas Samat hails from Kyrgyzstan.
Megaludis competed at 125 pounds all four years in college. While wrestling for Cael Sanderson he placed 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the NCAA tournament making him one of the Nittany Lions’ all-time best. In high school he was no different. Having only suffered one loss, Megaludis placed 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st in the PIAA State tournament for Franklin Regional, finishing his career 170-1, and earning the distinction as one of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award finalists.
Lanky for his size, but still very strong, Nico embodies the physical nature of a western Pennsylvania wrestler. It’s no surprise to anyone who has followed his career that he continues to have success on the senior level circuit, the pinnacle of wrestling. Nico recently placed 3rd at the US World Team Trials earning his first spot on the National Team. He finished behind Joe Colon and Nahshon Garrett, who will represent the United States in Budapest this October at the World Championships.
Being on the National Team is a great honor. In addition to the added attention and recognition, athletes get a stipend from USA Wrestling and get to go on one or two trips overseas for competitions. Consider for a second how hard it is to place top 8 at the NCAA tournament. Then consider all the current college wrestlers and recent graduates trying to make the National Team. Then add the difficulty of placing top 3 instead of 8. That’s why at tournaments like the US Open and World Team Trials, NCAA Champions will often meet as early as the round of 16, like Nico and Cory Clark (Iowa) did at this year’s Open.
Of interesting note, in the 2014 NCAA tournament Nico lost to the man above him on the US depth chart, Nahshon Garrett, 6-4 in the semifinals. Garrett went on to lose 3-2 to Jesse Delgado in the championship, who, coincidentally, beat Nico in the finals the previous year. In 2016, Nico beat current PWC coach Conor Youtsey 4-0 in the quarterfinals. He then beat current world team member (57kg) and returning silver medalist Thomas Gilman in the finals.
The WPIAL is one of the best wrestling areas in the country and world. Having one of its greats back can only be a good thing. Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up with Megaludis this past weekend:
What was the biggest driving factor in changing locations?
I’m from Pittsburgh and I really like the area. I enjoy it, my family is back here. Plus, I wouldn’t go to a school that I didn’t think I could get better at. My business (Megaludis Financial) is here too. The way I look at it: I like to be a busy person, I like to be going 14 hours of the day. It’s healthy that in Pittsburgh I have time to train, but also have time outside with my business. It’s flexible. It’s really the best of both worlds.
Coaches Keith Gavin and Drew Headlee both have extensive freestyle experience. Additionally, Samat (resident athlete at 57kg) is a great training partner. How did that impact your decision?
When the new coaching staff came on it was kind of exciting. It was almost like whenever Cael [Sanderson], Cody [Sanderson], and Casey [Cunningham] came to [Penn State]… I always knew I was going to be back in the Pittsburgh area. I didn’t know when, but I knew it could have been while I was still competing. So, when [the coaching change occurred] it gave me the peace of mind if I want to go train at Pitt someday, I can do so.
Samat, I’ve known him for two years. He was in my bracket in the New York tournament a year and a half ago. I met him before my finals match against the Russian [Badrudinov]. We talked and he said he was at Pitt, I didn’t really understand what he was saying. He trained over at my house before he even belonged to the RTC. I’ve known him, he’s a great person, good guy, he helps me, I help him.
Pitt has a slew of talented lightweights coming in. Mickey Phillippi, Ryan Sullivan, Brendon Fenton, Cole Matthews etc… how will they benefit you and you them?
My work ethic, my attitude towards wrestling, towards life. It’s a culture thing. That’s the thing that’s changing at Pitt. It’s very positive, the kids want to be in there, they’re excited about it. They know the opportunity to wrestle in college is an awesome thing and to take advantage of every single second. I want them to have full effort and trying every second, that’s going to benefit me. And they get to see my approach to wrestling, to life, how it all ties in together. Hopefully the culture at Pitt just keeps growing and growing. I just want to the guys to go in and be excited about wrestling. That’s the most important thing.
What are your freestyle goals/how long do you plan to compete?
Obviously I wouldn’t be wrestling if I didn’t want to be the best in the world, right? Obviously, that’s a very big test. I just have to keep learning and growing and taking things from these coaches… I’ve been around the Penn State coaches for seven years. Maybe [Gavin and Headlee] might notice something that someone I’ve been around for 20 years like my father might not pick up.
As far as competing I take it year by year. When 2020 comes around I could be like ‘wow I feel great, I’m ready to go more’ or maybe that’s it. I’m not really sure. At this level it’s hard to think – I’ll be 28 in 2020 – hard to think competing past that, but who knows? I could feel awesome and keep going. It’s pretty much a year by year deal now.
Do you have any competitions scheduled in the near future?
Possibly. Working that out. Not really sure yet. Hopefully at the end of August there’s a couple different opportunities that may come up.
Penn State and the Nittany Lion wrestling club have had a ton of success lately and produced some amazing senior level athletes, notably Jake Varner and David Taylor. Can the Pittsburgh RTC turn into the next big thing?
Well yeah, I wouldn’t be going there if I didn’t think it’d be great. We have guys there that are pretty solid. Our lightweights are very good. Samat is very tough at 57kg, there’s another Kyrgyzstani guy there helping out, he’s very good, he’ll be at 65 kilos. Conor Youtsey, he’s a two time All American. Jon Gingrich at heavyweight. When you look at the RTC program it’s pretty good. It’s not stellar right yet as far as having ten guys, but the guys that are there are all pretty good. As Pitt gets better in the next year or two as Gavin comes in and brings the culture up to date, then I think it obviously could be [successful]. And then we’re in Western Pennsylvania which is a hotbed of wrestling. So yeah, I think the potential for the college team and the RTC is definitely there.
Describe your own style of wrestling and who influenced you most throughout your career?
I wrestle hard. When they get off the mat with me, whether they win or they lose, they’re going to be saying ‘wow, that guy wrestles hard every single second.’ That’s what’s made me very good. My approach to every second I’m wrestling is to go hard as I can. I’m a religious guy, so if God wants me to wrestle, I think that’s pretty powerful. My technique’s been getting a lot better. Instead of running through the wall, I’ve been opening up the door, as an analogy. I’ve been making things easier by getting my technique better.
I have so many people. My dad obviously. I’ve wrestled for 22 years and he’s been with me every step. He’s great. Sunny Abe when I was young. He was kind of my first big time coach. Jody and Jon [Strittmatter] at Young Guns. They got my mentality to be ‘attack, attack, attack’. Then obviously Cael and Cody. I mean Cody Sanderson was kind of my main guy. We have a great relationship. Cody is someone I care about, he cares about me. That relationship with him is great. I’m looking forward to continuing it.
I realize I’m a ‘Pitt guy’ now and I’m going to do what I can to help out Pitt and be loyal to Pitt. But I’m not someone that – now that I’m leaving Penn State – I don’t turn my back against them. I realize what they’ve given me. My relationship with them is still going to be great. Cody Sanderson is one of my guys and he’s going to help me as long as I wrestle. But I’m looking forward to building a great relationship with the Pitt guys. I know their international experience with Keith especially, and Drew, I know they can help me in certain areas that maybe I haven’t thought of before.
Between you, Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer, Tyler Smith, and Josh Shields, Franklin Regional has pumped out some of the best wrestlers in the country recently. Speak to that.
Spencer always went to Young Guns and was around Franklin Regional but he came in when he was in 8th grade. When I was in 6th grade, 13 out of 16 weights (in youth wrestling), we had someone wrestling in college. Devin Brown came in too but everyone else was homegrown. All of those 13 are wrestling in college or just graduated. My dad was a big influence on [the program]. They all worked out in our basement. I like to give him credit.