Lions closing in on another national title
ST. LOUIS — For the second year in a row, Penn State has pushed five wrestlers into the finals of the NCAA Wrestling Championships and, in the process, has put a chokehold on its second consecutive team title and sixth in seven years.
The Nittany Lions’ Murderer’s Row of Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) all swept into tonight’s championship finals. Penn State was a perfect 5-for-5 in the semifinals.
The Lions have a sixth All-American in Nick Nevills (285) who is still alive in the consolations. Jimmy Gulibon (141) and Matt McCutcheon (197) each fell one win short of earning All-America status.
Penn State leads the team race with 121 points, followed by Ohio State with 89.5, Oklahoma State with 86, Missouri with 81.5 and Iowa with 74.
Ohio State and Oklahoma State are believed to be the only two teams with a mathematical chance of catching Penn State, and that would take a catastrophic meltdown by the Nittany Lions.
“Our guys showed up. They have wrestled well. We’ve got a big day tomorrow, big matches in the finals,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.
“I think our guys are loose. They’re wrestling great. Right, that’s it. Why not wrestle great, right?”
Retherford punched his ticket to the finals with a pair of dominating wins. In the quarterfinals he rolled up a 19-2 technical fall in 5:14 over Alex Kocer of South Dakota State. Then, in the semifinals, he score a blast double on Iowa No. 5 seed Brandon Sorensen and eventually hooked up a bow and arrow. After he had earned a four count, he slipped a leg out, went chest to chest and scored the fall in 2:36.
“I felt like I had a secure lock and I had his chin,” Retherford said. “There is a position where you’re either getting back points or looking for the fall, and I adjusted and as soon
Retherford will face Missouri No. 3 seed Lavion Mayes in tonight’s championship final.
Nolf, who is known for piling up takedowns and points in double digits, was more measured in his semifinal win over Nebraska’s Tyler Berger. He led just 2-0 after one, scoring a takedown with five seconds left in the period. In the second, though, he escaped and notched two more takedowns for a 7-1 lead after two. In the third, a penalty point, escape and two takedowns gave him a 13-5 major decision. He earned his semifinal berth with a fall in 4:07 over Rider’s B.J. Clagon.
Nolf, like Retherford, will face a Tiger in the finals. He meets No. 3 seed Joey Lavallee.
Joseph was paired with No. 2 seed Logan Massa of Michigan with the match tied, 3-3, after Joseph was hit for stalling. He then went to his signature move, an inside trip to hit the decisive takedown in a 5-4 win. He had hit the same move in the quarterfinals to pull out a 6-5 come-from-behind win over Daniel Lewis of Missouri.
“Sometimes I just go for it, really. If I feel like I need to score quick or if I feel like something is creeping up there, it’s all on feel. If I feel it’s there I go for it,” Joseph said.
Joseph will meet two-time champion and No. 1 seed Isaiah Martinez of Illinois in the final.
Hall built an 8-0 first-period lead on Virginia Tech’s Zach Epperly en route to a 10-2 major decision win in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals he toppled No. 1 seed and undefeated Zahid Valencia of Arizona State, 4-3, in a match with plenty of drama.
With the match tied 1-1 and 30 seconds to go in the match, Valencia appeared to have a critical takedown. In the process, though, Hall’s headgear ended up over his mouth and the Penn State coaches challenged the takedown. In the review, the referees found that Valencia had pulled Hall’s headgear and Hall was awarded a penalty point.
“I know for a fact that it wasn’t on purpose. He didn’t, he wasn’t going to cheat to get a takedown by any means,” Hall said. “We were just wrestling. That’s part of the sport. It happens. I wish it could happen another way, knowing that I know Zahid very well.”
Then, with the match tied at 2-2, Hall hit a takedown for the deciding points in a 4-3 win.
Hall faces Ohio State No. 2 seed Bo Jordan in the final.
Nickal pinned his way into the finals. First, he hit his patented “secret move” in which he has a leg from bottom, reaches for the head, pivots through and crunches into a near cradle to pin Nebraska’s T.J. Dudley in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals against Sammy Brooks of Iowa, Nickal locked Brooks in double overhooks, tripped him to his back and pinned him in 1:01.
“I’m always looking for the fall, looking and trying to score some bonus points for my team. But I just go out there and wrestle, and that’s way it went, so yeah,” Nickal said.
Nickal is paired with Cornell two-time champion Gabe Dean in the final.
Nevills lost, 3-1, to Duke’s Jacob Kasper and was knocked into the consolation bracket. Once there, though, he posted 2-0 and 6-4 wins to advance to this morning’s consolation semifinals. He can finish as high as third and no worse than sixth.
Gulibon ended his Penn State career one win short of earning All-America status for a second time. He posted 14-5 and 11-4 wins before dropping a 6-4 decision to No. 2 seed Kevin Jack of N.C. State in the All-America round.
McCutcheon saw his season end in the All-America round, as well. After losing to Virginia Tech No. 4 seed Jared Haught, 7-3, in the quarterfinals, he dropped a 13-2 major decision to Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker in the All-America round.